Immigration policies raise Latino prison population

Julianne Hing | 11/22/2013, 6 a.m.

These prosecutions have had a real impact on immigrant communities.

Jay Stansell, an assistant federal public defender in Seattle, said many of his clients and those who are being prosecuted for illegal reentry are only trying to provide for their families and be good parents. Stansell laid out a common scenario where a father, for instance, was initially deported when he lost his job and turned to some quick cash that resulted in a drug conviction, but returned to the country because his wife couldn’t raise their kids on her own.

Once back in the country the father keeps his head down and is “scrupulously law abiding, because he knows that if you get so much as a traffic ticket you’re going to get caught back up in this business again.” But one wrong move, or one angry employer’s report to immigration officials can result in another conviction.

“All of a sudden, you’re facing four years in prison for trying to do the right thing,” Stansell said, adding that over the years prison sentences for immigration offenses have risen.

Illegal reentry is a felony, where first-time illegal entry is considered a misdemeanor. The average prison sentence for someone convicted of illegal reentry today is 14 months, according to TRAC.