The plight of 11 million undocumented immigrants, including 700,000 Floridians, will remain at the forefront of political debate until we have a system that allows for the full integration of immigrants and their families into our democracy. Such reform is the only way to diminish federal and state policies that criminalize immigrant communities. In fact, even today, as immigration reform is generating productive discourse, leading figures in Congress are attempting to make it a federal crime to be in the United States while undocumented. There are even proposals to repeal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which has proved beneficial to those brought to the United States as children.-
Aspiring citizens aren’t the only ones being marginalized. In Florida, where the rights-restoration process is widely considered to be the most stringent in the nation, 1.5 million returning citizens — ex-felons who have paid their debt to society — are eager to rejoin the world and the workforce and participate in the democratic process. Nearly one in four African Americans was unable to vote in the 2012 election because of a prior felony conviction.
How we treat returning citizens is only half of the troubling equation, as the creation of new laws and the enforcement of existing ones have led to an increase in African American incarceration. According to research compiled by the ACLU, the U.S. prison population rose by 700% from 1970 to 2005. One in every 15 black males over the age of 18 is incarcerated. Hispanic men are not far behind with one of every 36 in prison. In comparison, one in every 106 white males is incarcerated.
So while a war is being waged on undocumented immigrants, mostly Latinos, the War on Drugs continues to disproportionately impact black America. In fact, The New York Times recently reported that “Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.”
The emergence of for-profit prison companies and their influence on our elected officials bears at least some of the responsibility for the criminalization of black and brown America.
Drawing a parallel between the challenges facing these two communities has a limit, but there is a clear link when a combined 2.2 million Floridians are disenfranchised, unable to cast a vote, or hold office themselves. It’s injustice.