By Amelia Collins, Associate Policy Analyst, NCLR
Nearly three weeks ago, a bipartisan group of senators introduced S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015, to remediate the ills of mass incarceration that plague American society and affect communities of color. We have long advocated for meaningful criminal and juvenile justice reform, and S. 2123 is an important first step. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a mark-up of the bill and voted to report it favorably to the full Senate.
Criminal justice reform is crucial for our community. Latinos and African Americans experience discrimination and disparate treatment at every stage of the criminal justice system. Most recent data show that nearly 21.6 percent of the state and federal prison population is Hispanic, even though Latinos represent just 17.4 percent of the U.S. population. The disproportionate number of imprisoned Latinos can be attributed in large part to decades of “tough-on-crime” policies that lack culturally appropriate prevention and reintegration programs. We support S. 2123 because, among other merits, the bill contains several provisions that address factors contributing to inequities among ethnic and racial groups. Specifically, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 would:
- Reduce certain mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses and eliminate the “three strikes” mandatory life sentence policy.
- Permit the retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act and other sentencing reforms that have been written into law. Sentencing disparities for crack and powder cocaine have led to a disproportionate number of Latinos and Blacks convicted for drug crimes and serving lengthier sentences than their White peers. NCLR has worked at the state level in California to address this issue and is pleased to see similar federal reforms.
- Allow juveniles convicted as adults and sentenced to life imprisonment to apply for parole after serving 20 years.
- Limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody.
- Permit nonviolent juveniles convicted in federal court to have their criminal records sealed or expunged in certain circumstances.
- Provide for greater judicial discretion in sentencing, creating a second safety valve for low-level offenders facing a 10-year mandatory minimum.
- Strengthen recidivism reduction programming and allow prerelease custody for low-risk inmates.
Congressional effort to mitigate mass incarceration through commonsense reforms is praiseworthy, and we encourage leadership to consider other bipartisan bills, such as the Fair Chance Act and H.R. 3713, which contain reforms similar to the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.
For too long, Latinos have been disproportionately incarcerated and sentenced too harshly. NCLR is encouraged to see bipartisan action from both chambers of congress to address an issue that so greatly affects our community—but rhetoric must be followed by reform.
By Leticia Miranda, Senior Policy Advisor, Economic Security Policy, NCLR
Momentum is certainly on the side of immigration reform, but the reality is that there are still plenty of ways that the current debate over the Senate immigration bill, S. 744, can go south. It’s no secret that some senators are attempting to restrict the pool of potential applicants for legalization. One way to do that is to essentially price them out of the process by piling on amendments that would drive up the costs.
Similar to previous generations of immigrants, today’s aspiring citizens are doing hard work in difficult jobs for lower wages than other Americans. The typical aspiring citizen is a married person with two children who works and earns about $34,400 annually. Like many Americans, they spend most of their family’s budget covering basic living expenses such as housing, transportation, food, taxes, and expenses related to raising children. They have enough to just get by, with little left over at the end of the month.
Under the Senate Judiciary Committee version of S. 744, the road to citizenship is already tough. It will be difficult for many of these hardworking families to afford the stiff fines and fees associated with legalization. Under the bill, a registered provisional immigrant (RPI) family would pay $3,000 in fines and an additional estimated $5,000 in fees over ten years as they progress through the legalization process. Families will need to save $800 per year to have enough to pay all the fines and fees. But some senators don’t think this already tough bill goes far enough and are determined to increase the price tag.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opens debate after the Senate passes a motion to proceed.
The immigration reform bill making its way through the Senate passed two major hurdles today when the upper chamber voted to invoke cloture and then voted for a motion to proceed with debate. The two procedural votes are important as it was a procedural dust up that killed reform efforts in 2007.
Now that a motion to proceed has passed, Senators will begin debating the substance of the bill. They’ll also be able to offer amendments to the bill.
Kudos to the Senate Judiciary Committee! After five long days of markup, the committee voted 13–5 yesterday to advance the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013” (S. 744). With solid bipartisan support, we are now one great big step closer to passing comprehensive immigration reform this year. Passage of this bill is good for American families and will improve U.S. border and economic security.
Three Republicans, Senators Jeff Flake (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Orrin Hatch (UT), joined with the ten Democrats on the committee to support the bill. S.744 now moves onto the full Senate for consideration. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) has indicated that he will bring the bill up for a vote in June.
Photo: Talk Radio News Service
Day 5 of the markup of the Senate’s immigration bill has resumed. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee considers amendments to Title 2, the section involving a pathway to citizenship and legalization, the heart of immigration reform. Watch live and follow the conversation below.