US officials want border crossers to receive longer sentences

Even as officials in the United States start to make use of new sentencing guidelines to try to reduce the country’s massive inmate population by releasing drug offenders early from federal prisons, the opposite approach is being taken with undocumented immigrants, with calls to increase the amount of time spent in federal prison for those who cross the US border illegally.

A proposal has been made by the US Sentencing Commission to increase prison sentences for undocumented immigrants who enter the United States again after having already been deported, cases that make up a large percentage of the country’s criminal justice system, the commission’s data has revealed, and accounting for around 25 percent of annual federal sentencing.

The commission is expected to vote on the proposed amendment this Friday, which would base sentences for undocumented immigrants illegally re-entering the United States but who have committed no other criminal offences raised to between six and twelve months in prison from the current sentences of zero to six months. Although two years would still be the maximum penalty, theoretically it could be extended for up to as long as 20 years if the offender had a more extensive criminal history.

The amendment is adamantly supported by the Department of Justice, noting that 27.2 percent of re-entry cases involve undocumented immigrants who have already been convicted. However, immigrant advocates have slammed the move, with American Immigration Council policy analyst, Joshua Breisblatt, noting that there is no evidence that harsher sentencing works to prevent border crossings.