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Report Concludes Hispanics Receiving a Greater Share of Federal Sentences

by David M. Reutter

Hispanics are comprising a higher percentage of federal sentences, concludes a February 2009 report issued by the Pew Hispanic Center. The rise is attributed to a heightened focus on immigration enforcement. The findings of the report are based on data collected by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).

In 2007, Hispanics accounted for 40% of all sentenced federal offenders, which is triple their share of the U.S. adult population. Trying to combat an increase from an estimated 3.9 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. in 1992 to 11.9 million in 2008, federal officials have cracked down on undocumented immigrants.

Of the Hispanics sentenced in federal court in 2007, 72% of them were not U.S. citizens, an increase from 61% in 1991. The number of Hispanics sentenced in federal court between 1991 and 2001 nearly quadrupled, jumping from 7,924 to 29,281. This comprised 54% of the increase in sentenced federal offenders over that period.

Over that time period, the dynamics of the criminal nature that Hispanics were sentenced for changed. In 1991, 60% of Hispanics were sentenced for drug crimes and 20% for immigration crimes. By 2007, 48% of Hispanics were sentenced for immigration offenses while 37% received prison time for a drug offense. We say prison time because 96% of all Hispanics were sentenced to prison, while non-Hispanics received such a sentence for the same conviction 82% of the time.

The type of crime Hispanics are sentenced for depends, largely, on whether they are a citizen or non-citizen. For immigration offenders, 75% were sentenced in 2007 for crimes of entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the country illegally. Another 19% were convicted for smuggling, transporting or harboring an unlawful alien. The non-citizen Hispanics in that group make up 81% of convictions for unlawful entry or residence in the country. By contrast, 91% of Hispanic U.S. citizens were sentenced for smuggling, transporting or harboring illegal aliens.

The report, however, concludes that Hispanics with U.S. citizenship are unlikely to commit immigration offenses. Those Hispanics with citizenship who faced federal sentencing more likely faced drug offenses, which comprised 56% of such sentences, while 14% were for immigration offenses and 30% for other offenses. Meanwhile, non-citizen Hispanics were convicted of immigration offenses 61% of the time, 31% were convicted of drug offenses and 9% were convicted of other offenses.

Hispanics, nonetheless, received average prison sentences of only 46 months verses 91 months for whites and blacks. A non-U.S. citizen Hispanic fares better than Hispanics with citizenship, receiving an average sentence of 40 months compared to 61 months for citizens.

The report, A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime, is available on PLN’s website.

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