The Mass Incarceration of Undocumented Latinos/as in the Prison-Immigration Industrial Complex: The Collateral Consequences

The Mass Incarceration of Undocumented Latinos/as in the Prison-Immigration Industrial Complex: The Collateral Consequences

Roberto Jose Velasquez (New Mexico State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1088-8.ch013
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In this chapter, the authors discuss the current mass incarceration of Latinos/as in the United States. While Latinos/as have always been overrepresented in the criminal justice system, especially in relation to their population size, the number of Latinos/as, especially those who are undocumented, is now increasing at epidemic proportions in prison. Paralleling the Black experience about mass incarceration, which has its historical roots in slavery, the authors discuss impact of mass incarceration on the Latino/a community, and how mass incarceration places the Latino/a population at-risk for destruction of its community, most notably the family. The authors, who are primarily mental health professionals, share their concerns about how mass incarceration is tearing at the foundation of this community as it has in the African American community and is likely to have negative long-term, and perhaps permanent, effects that are yet to be known. While it is beyond of the scope of the chapter to discuss the specific assessment and treatment of Latino/a persons affected by mass incarceration, the authors do focus on problems that are arising in this community as a result of persons, especially parents, being incarceration because of undocumented status in the United States.
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Since the day the first prison opened, people of color have been disproportionately represented behind bars. … The first person admitted to a U.S. penitentiary was “a light skinned Negro…” (Alexander, 2011).

As with African Americans, the construction of race in the United States provides fertile ground for the unequal treatment of Latinos/as within the criminal justice system. While not identical, the Latino/a experience … tends to mirror many patterns of domination and subordination endured by African Americans. Adverse policies toward anyone considered nonwhite have been prevalent throughout U.S. history (Morin, 2009).

The demonization of individuals and groups, specifically of Latinos/as, is intimately related to the fact that U.S. government’s recent policies tend to pursue injustice rather than justice, to leave inhumanity unchecked, to choose xenophobic enclosure over its traditional ideals of human dignity and the right of all human beings to have rights (Oboler, 2009).



In this chapter, the authors discuss some of the “collateral consequences” of the mass incarceration of Latinos/as, especially those Latinos/as who are imprisoned for immigration offenses. Based on the increasing rates of incarceration of Latinos/as, some limited research on the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, and the deportation of Latinos/as who are undocumented, and our collective experiences in working with those affected by mass incarceration, the authors believe that history is repeating itself, with the Latino/a population being the primary target of mass incarceration. In other words, we are now witnessing the beginning of the collateral consequences of mass incarceration and deportation on the Latino/a community. We fear that over time, the collateral consequences will be similar, if not identical, to what has occurred to the African American community.

This chapter is divided into three parts:

  • The first part provides an overview of the how mass incarceration can significantly impact, in a negative manner, a group of people, and in this case, African Americans.

  • The second part examines the recent mass incarceration of Latinos/as with the authors viewing this recent phenomenon as “history repeating itself”, this time with this population.

  • The final part considers some of the collateral consequences that are currently happening to the Latino/a population as a result of mass incarceration.

In the conclusion section, we present some of our assumptions about the reasons for the mass incarceration of Latinos/as in the U.S. and believe that our assumptions are parallel to those that apply to African Americans. We do believe that history is repeating itself, this time with Latinos/as.

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