Latino convicts represent the largest ethnic population in the federal prison system, accounting for 40 percent of those convicted of federal crimes, said a Pew Research Center study quoted by the New York Times. Sentenced Latinos made up 13 percent of the U.S. adult population in 2007, but they accounted for one third of federal prison inmates that year, a result the study attributed to the sharp rise in illegal immigration and tougher enforcement of immigration laws. Nearly half of Latino offenders, or about 48 percent, were convicted of immigration crimes, while drug offenses were the second-most-prevalent charge.
As the annual number of federal offenders more than doubled from 1991 to 2007, the number of Latino offenders sentenced in a given year nearly quadrupled, to 29,281 from 7,924. Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not U.S. citizens. Federal prisoners who are illegal immigrants are usually deported to their home countries after serving their sentences. “The immigration system has essentially become criminalized at a huge cost to the criminal justice system, to courts, to judges, to prisons and prosecutors,” said Lucas Guttentag of the American Civil Liberties Union. The New York Times has reported that federal immigration prosecutions rose over the last five years, doubling in the last fiscal year to 70,000 cases. Meanwhile, other categories of federal prosecutions, including gun trafficking, public corruption, organized crime and white-collar crime, declined.