Mexicans Most Likely of Immigrants to Be Locked Up in Detention Centers

Protestors outside an ICE detention center in Eloy.
Protestors outside an ICE detention center in Eloy.
National Day Laborer Organizing Netowork/Flickr

U.S. immigration authorities incarcerate Mexicans at a much higher rate than immigrants from any other country, according to a news website's analysis.

Seventy-five percent of Mexicans who are facing deportation for non-criminal reasons are held in detention centers, the analysis discovered. By comparison, Immigration and Customs Enforcement locks up just 39 percent of people of other nationalities in deportation proceedings.

After Mexicans, Guatemalans (61 percent), Ecuadorians (57 percent), and Hondurans (49 percent) were detained at the highest rates. Immigrants from China (19 percent), Haiti (17 percent), and Cuba (16 percent) were the least likely to be detained.

The analysis by BuzzFeed News includes all removal cases initiated between 2003 and 2014. The numbers, which have been controlled for gender, criminal charges, and legal representation, include immigrants who were detained but later released on bond.

ICE declined to comment on the data, pointing to a November memo outlining the agency’s enforcement policies, which instructs officers to prioritize the detention of undocumented immigrants who pose a threat to national security, border security, and public safety. If immigrants aren’t deemed dangerous or flight risks, ICE officials may choose to release them on bond.

Several Arizona immigration lawyers told New Times they had not observed any anecdotal evidence of bias against Mexicans. Noting that the vast majority of their clients in detention are Latino, however, they said the analysis “raises questions” about racial issues with the way ICE identifies undocumented immigrants to deport and detain.

In Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration-enforcement practices, which have landed him in court accused of racial profiling, may have contributed to the imbalance of Latinos in detention, said Karen Tumlin, legal director for the National Immigration Law Center.

“It’s clear that, for years, Arpaio was targeting Latinos,” she said. “That kind of discrimination on the front end produces discrimination on the back end.”

Under Arpaio, hundreds of immigrants were charged with fraud for using fake or stolen identification to work in Arizona, for example, said immigration attorney Ruben Reyes. With a felony record, those immigrants now qualify for mandatory detention under ICE policy because identify theft is considered a crime of “moral turpitude.”

“A lot of people got caught in that trap,” Reyes said. “Once they were in ICE custody, there was no way to get them out.”

Latinos may also be detained at higher rates simply because of their proximity to the border, Reyes said. Immigrants who are caught sneaking over the border generally are not granted bail because officials assume they don’t have connections in the United States. Without family ties, the best legal argument to fend off deportation is requesting asylum. Immigrants are detained as a matter of procedure while authorities sort out whether their cases have merit.

Immigrants from other countries, on the other hand, are much more prone to overstay a visa than sneak over the border simply because they are more likely to arrive in the U.S. by plane or boat.

“On the border, there is this [law-enforcement] attitude that ‘I don’t want to deal with this person in the long term. If I could just get them out quickly, it would make everything so much easier,’” Reyes said. “You can have a Mexican national on a bus and out of the country in 24 hours. The process of moving anybody else is going to be a lot more work.”


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