by Dale Chappell
A recent Penn State University study confirmed that negative perceptions of immigration and immigrants have affected sentencing in geographic areas not traditionally known for being destinations for immigrants.
Prior to the 1990s, Hispanics traditionally immigrated to areas like California, Florida, and Texas. But since then, they have called areas like Indiana, Kansas, and North Carolina their new homes. So, how have punishments been handed out to Hispanic immigrants in those nontraditional destinations?
Unsurprisingly, the study found that federal sentences imposed on Hispanic immigrants in nontraditional areas were more severe than those handed to immigrants in areas with established immigrant populations. This was especially true for undocumented noncitizen immigrants.
Relying on sentencing data that did not factor in whether charges were reduced, and by excluding immigration offenses, such as illegal re-entry, the study found the disparities in sentences in nontraditional areas were shaped more by recent events than by evolution of the law.
“Our research points to how perceptions of immigration and immigrants might shape ethnic and citizenship disparities in criminal sentencing,” Jeffrey Ulmer, professor of sociology and criminology at Penn State University and leader of the study, said. He noted that these sentencing disparities based on the different areas “raise questions about the fairness of criminal punishment.”
From 1990 to 2010, courts in traditional areas sentenced Hispanics about the same as non-Hispanics. And later on, nontraditional area courts sentenced U.S. citizen Hispanics the same as traditional area courts. But the big difference has been between the undocumented, noncitizen Hispanics.
Hostility and fear toward illegal aliens might play a role in the sentencing disparities, according to researchers. The key seemed to be whether an area welcomed Hispanic immigrants or saw them as a threat.
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