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August 6, 2012

Panel: Hispanic Incarceration Rates Driven by Increase in Immigration Enforcement

A panel of experts lead a discussion at the Annual Meeting session “Immigration, Race and Incarceration in the United States”

A panel of experts leads the discussion at the Annual Meeting session “Immigration, Race and Incarceration in the United States”

A panel at the ABA Annual Meeting discussed the link between race and incarceration in light of a U.S. Sentencing Commission report that found that Hispanics, the fast-growing minority group in the nation, account for more than 35 percent of all individuals sentenced.

Margaret Stock, moderator of the panel titled “Immigration, Race and Incarceration in the United States,” explained that the rising levels of incarceration of Hispanics are mainly due to an increase in immigration enforcement. She cited figures from the Sentencing Commission report showing that 94.6 percent of non-citizens were imprisoned for immigration violations.

During the session, investigative journalist Maria Hinojosa presented clips from her documentary Lost in Detention, in which she revealed how the Obama administration’s immigration policy has contributed not only to higher levels of imprisonment, but also to the deportation of non-criminal immigrants and hidden abuse in detention centers.

Sara Elizabeth Dill, both an immigration and criminal law practitioner, shared her experience in representing immigrants and noted that the discrepancies between the immigration and criminal justice systems expose the flaws of a broken judicial system, because immigrants don’t have access to appropriate counsel. “The system is completely broken. We need to look at this and say, why are we treating just one group like this? Why are we creating a system where there is no help for these individuals?” Dill said.

When asked about what specific immigration policy changes would reduce the number of immigration detainees, Lisa Marquardt, Maryland office of the public defender, called for the restoration of judicial recommendations against deportation. JRAD was part of the Immigration Nationality Act on 1952 that allowed a judge in a criminal case the discretionary authority to prevent deportation of a non-citizen. Marquardt said this procedure would lessen the burden to our overcriminalized judicial system and minimize the risk of unjust deportation.

This panel was sponsored by the ABA Commission on Immigration.