1. Update
  2. Criminal Justice, Immigrants & Refugees

Mass Incarceration, Deportation and Hispanic Heritage Month

By Allison Lee, October 29, 2018


During Hispanic Heritage month we celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

This is also a time to note the disparities brown and black people face in the U.S. immigration and criminal justice systems. Since Hispanic Heritage Month ended, I have been reflecting on the issues facing the Latinx* community and what it means to truly be an ally and advocate working to advance justice for all people.

The observation of Hispanic Heritage Month began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was expanded to a period of one month by President Ronald Reagan. Today Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized beginning on Sept. 15 and ending Oct. 15.

The United States is the world leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails. Hispanic men are 2.7 times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. Latinx youth are 65 percent more likely to be detained than their white peers. Black immigrants make up 7.2 percent of the non-citizen population in the U.S., and yet they represent 20.3 percent of immigrants facing deportation on criminal grounds.

The United States also maintains the world’s largest immigrant detention system, imprisoning 380,000 - 442,000 people annually. The power of the government to imprison and deport noncitizens on a large scale began in 1996 with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and passage of the Illegal Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).

Detained immigrants are subject to solitary confinement, abuse, and inadequate medical treatment. They are not provided with legal counsel, and generally are not allowed a bond hearing through which they could demonstrate the important role they play in their families and communities. These legal proceedings can take years, and many detainees instead accept the faster process of deportation without a hearing. The process tears them from their homes and communities.

Although it is important that we celebrate the rich heritage of Hispanic and Latinx communities this month, it is equally important that we consider how our systems of mass incarceration and deportation criminalize black and brown immigrants throughout the year.

Take Action

  • Contact your senators as negotiations with the White House on criminal justice reform continue. Urge them to express clear support for sentencing reform as a key piece of criminal justice reform.

  • Email you Members of Congress today to urge them to choose humane alternatives over incarceration for immigrant families.

*Latinx is a is a gender-neutral term alternative to Latino, Latina and Latin@.

Allison Lee

  • Program Assistant, Domestic Policy

Allison Lee works alongside José Woss on criminal justice reform, campaign finance reform (election integrity), and police militarization. Her primary responsibilities include lobbying members of Congress, writing policy updates, and conducting legislative research. She has always been very passionate about dismantling systems that promote racial disparities.