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August 28, 2005

Immigration offenses and fast-track disparity

This morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this interesting article discussing and questioning the long sentences that are sometimes given to immigrants who enter the United States illegally. Here are a few highlights:

Nationwide and in the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the number of people charged with the federal crime known as "illegal re-entry after deportation" has increased exponentially since 2001.... Proponents say sending offenders to federal prison before forcing them out of the country again makes them think twice about coming back once they're released.... Critics question the effectiveness of the approach, since recidivism rates are impossible to track. They point out that many illegal re-entrants who get long sentences because of past criminal records aren't dangerous.

Some Wisconsin-based federal judges have criticized the process in their rulings.  It isn't right for Wisconsin defendants to be sentenced more harshly than illegal immigrants discovered in states bordering Mexico, simply because the sheer number of cases there would overwhelm the courts otherwise, the judges say. The "fast-track" plea bargains used in border states minimize deterrence just where it's needed most, they say....

By a conservative estimate, U.S. taxpayers are spending some $200 million a year to keep illegal re-entrants in prison, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis.... Robert J. McWhirter, an assistant federal defender in Arizona and author of a book on immigration law, questions whether it's worth it. "The penalty structure is far too expensive of a way to get the amount of deterrence you get," he said. "You get all the deterrence you're going to get with two years in prison."

The story also includes a discussion of two notable immigration cases and thoughtful quotes from a number of persons involved in federal sentencing decision-making.

August 28, 2005 at 08:56 AM | Permalink

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