Immigration Reform 2013: Why is Our Legal System So Unfair to Black Immigrants?

From New York to California, immigration is a hot button issue facing the American public. Most people view immigration as strictly a Latino issue, when in reality it is a multi-race issue. Colorlines.com points that out, correctly claiming "it’s not just a matter of votes but one of justice."

There are nearly 3.3 million black people in the United States that claim residency, but are not born citizens. These black noncitizens make up 9% of the population of immigrants, which is why the main stream media does not focus on them. However, that may be about to change. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has made this issue a part of their policy agenda for this year. Immigration reform is included with voter protection and fighting poverty. The tactics that will be used to address immigration reform include creating a task force co-chaired by Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Jeffries is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. For any immigration bill, this committee will have major influence on the final product. This influence will give the caucus a good starting place to accomplish this agenda. Their purpose for ensuring all races are included in this discussion centers around the prison-to-deportation pipeline.

The term prison-to-deportation was coined with the school-to-prison pipeline, which is used to describe the overbearing zero-tolerance policies some schools have that imprison students for minor infractions at schools. The same idea follows with the prison-to-deportation pipeline. The CBC is attempting to repeal laws that mandate the automatic detention and deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of minor crimes.  Specifically, members are looking to reform or repeal laws passed in 1996 which expanded the definition of aggravated felony and removed the use of discretion for judges' rulings on cases that involve aggravated felony.

Stripping away judges' discretion does not allow judges to apply factors that they normally would if the person was a full-citizen of the United States. The factors that a judge could use to justify a less harsh sentence include longtime residents’ community ties, whether they have kids here, or if they left their country of birth when they were children. These laws apply to more than just undocumented citizens. Persons included in this group also consist of green-card holders and asylum seekers.  

The largest problem with the change in laws is that it has begun to be used as a police tactic in black communities. Another member of the task force, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), stated that "[y]ou’re finding young people who are getting arrested and then take a plea agreement for having a marijuana joint in their pocket. Does that mean they cannot be part of their community, that they should be [banished] for the rest of their lives because of an overly aggressive stop and frisk policy?"

Clarke also noted that "The level of policing and the abuse of certain police tools and tactics have led to black immigrants being put in these precarious positions by virtue of their race. This is about fairness and equity to be quite honest."

A nation based on fairness and equity has overstepped with regard to these laws. The pipeline is becoming an issue of race and status instead of properly codified and equally applied law. A judge’s use of discretion is something that can be afforded to natural born citizens. That privilege should be dismantled and equity under the law should be grated to all who reside in the United States.