The federal immigration enforcement effort is pushing the limits of the U.S. justice system, overwhelming federal judges and escalating the ranks of Latinos sent to prison, reports the Associated Press. Expedited court hearings along the border are helping drive a seismic demographic shift in who is being sent to federal prison. Hispanics comprise nearly half of all people sentenced for federal felonies; Hispanics last year made up 16 percent of the U.S. population.
Sentences for felony immigration crimes, which include illegal crossing and other crimes such as alien smuggling, accounted for 87 percent of the increase in the number of Hispanics sent to prison over the past decade, said an analysis of U.S. Sentencing Commission data. Some politicians believe the en masse hearings should be expanded to deter illegal immigration. Others question whether the system affects people seeking to cross the border, while some contend the programs distract prosecutors from pursuing more serious crimes. “There is a use of criminal justice resources that doesn’t make sense [ ] Are we just running numbers so it appears we’re doing more on immigration and drug offenses or are we doing anything worthwhile?” said Chicago federal Judge Ruben Castillo, a former U.S. Sentencing Commission member.