I had the pleasure yesterday of attending a lecture at UCSD by Mary Waters, who is the M.E. Zukerman Professor and Chair of Sociology at Harvard University. She and her colleague Philip Kasinitz at CUNY Graduate Center have been looking at the temporal coincidence of the rise in the incarcerated population in the U.S.--which disproportionately involves black males--and the rise in the arrest, detention, and deportation rate of undocumented immigrants--which disproportionately involves Hispanics. Felons and undocumented immigrants ("crimmigrants") share in common the fate of being placed outside the usual American legal system and Waters describes this as the equivalent of a legal apartheid. It is not exactly based on race, since blacks and hispanics on the "right" side of the legal apartheid have had considerable economic and political success over the years. So, the charge of racism is not exactly correct, although some of that almost certainly exists in the system (i.e., institutional racism). It is more a matter of class--those on the "wrong" side of the legal apartheid are much more likely to be people with low levels of educational achievement and thus lack good labor force opportunities. But the losers go beyond just those who commit a crime or enter the country without documentation. The children of both groups wind up being disadvantaged and they too wind up with inadequate levels of education and thus restricted life chances.
What to do? I pointed out that there are two "easy"answers: (1) since the rise in the prison population is heavily related to the U.S. policies of jailing people for drug use and sales, a change in that policy would immediately reduce the prison population; and (2) the legalization of undocumented immigrants, as Ronald Reagan did with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, would put all of those folks on the right side of the legal system. It was pointed out that we would also have to implement strict controls on guns, since gun violence is a related cause of the rise in the prison population. These policy changes seem common sensical and easy to understand, yet everyone understands that there is no realistic possibility that they will be implemented. Mary pointed out that the prison system--both public but especially private--benefits from the existence of all of these prisoners. A lot of taxpayer money goes into this. And, by coincidence, yesterday Rubén Rumbaut, who has also studied these issues, forwarded a link to a book by Erik Camayd-Freixas at Florida International University, who notes that "ICE's arrest capabilities greatly exceed the capacity of the backlogged immigration courts and the presently engorged for-profit immigration jails. Any expansion in deportations from interior enforcement will go along with an expansion in detention." And, of course, if we stop putting people in prison, we'll have to deal with a rise in unemployment among prison guards...
This is an important story in many ways and I look forward to Mary Waters and Philip Kasinitz continuing to work through the complexities of how to resolve the problem.
This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.
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