New Face of Offender in Federal Courts Is Hispanic

Suzanne Gamboa, AP, February 18, 2009

Hispanics outnumber other ethnic groups among criminal offenders in the federal courts due in part to the crackdown on illegal immigration, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Pew Hispanic Center, which analyzed federal sentencing data, found that in 2007, 40 percent of the offenders were Hispanic, compared with 27 percent white, 23 percent black and 10 percent from other groups. In 1991, whites comprised 43 percent of those sentenced in federal courts and 24 percent were Hispanic.

The Hispanic offenders were more likely to be non-citizens and nearly half of the crimes were immigration-related. Three-quarters of the crimes were for re-entering or remaining in the country illegally, while about a fifth were for smuggling, transporting or harboring an illegal immigrant.

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Lopez linked the increase to a 1995 federal program dubbed Operation Gatekeeper, which stopped undocumented immigrants at the border. Also, a 1996 immigration law that designated certain crimes as “aggravated felonies” has led to increasing caseloads in federal courts.

Immigration prosecutions have quadrupled since 2001 as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Homeland Security Department, has deployed fugitive operations teams to arrest illegal immigrants and those who have committed crimes.

In 2007, 10,824 people were sentenced in federal courts for unlawfully entering or remaining in the United States, according to U.S. Sentencing Commission data on the most recent numbers available. Of those, about 80 percent received enhanced sentences for prior convictions for other crimes.

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The numbers change significantly when Hispanic offenders are separated by citizenship status. Hispanics who are U.S. citizens were only 11 percent of all sentenced federal offenders in 2007 and 8 percent in 1991.

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