Two Deep Dives: Demographics and Prisons


Research and analysis on immigration doesn’t get as much air time as political rhetoric. Today—take a look at two insightful articles that tackle issues of immigration policy failures and disparate treatment of citizens and non-citizens in federal prisons.


In a thoughtful article, Elizabeth F. Cohen, professor of political science at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, describes the historical arc of immigration law changes and their consequences, noting that, “when the government has tried to control demographics with immigration policy, it hasn’t gotten what it wished for.”

“There are costs created when poor immigrants enter the country. But there are also costs to keeping them out or replacing them with “better” immigrants. Losing the resources of families who sponsor immigrants is just one example. We also don’t know what price we will pay for restricting legal immigration, skimming the best-educated members of other countries, drastically reducing remittances sent to poor and unstable countries, and myriad other very likely outcomes of transforming our immigration system.

“Immigration restrictionists justify their position by pointing to nativist-populist anger, a wildly inegalitarian and under-resourced public-education system, unplanned growth, our outsize contributions to climate change, an inadequate social-welfare and health-care system, and the uncertainty that comes with a rapidly changing economy. If we want to tackle those challenges, we should do so head-on. Reducing and changing the immigrant population won’t solve these disparate and complicated problems, but it will likely create new ones.”


In addition to nearly 50,000 non-criminal immigrants confined in immigration jails while awaiting resolution of their immigration cases, federal prisons hold about 19,000 non-citizen inmates convicted of some kind of crime. According to government figures, “fifty-three per cent of inmates in these facilities are convicted of drug crimes, thirty-two per cent are convicted of immigration-related infractions, and eight per cent are convicted of violent offenses.”

The New Yorker reports on legal scholar Emma Kaufman’s research and Harvard Law Review article.

“No one understood exactly how the process worked, but, at some point after the men were sentenced, federal prison authorities had segregated them from the general prison population. The logic appeared to be that, because these inmates would eventually be deported, the government need not expend additional resources on them or provide services such as access to drug-treatment programs and literacy courses that were typically given to citizen inmates. Normally, federal rules mandate that inmates be housed within five hundred miles of their families, but, even though many of these men had family members in the United States, they were thousands of miles from them. Although the facility was under the charge of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, it was administered by the GEO Group, a private-prison company that, in 2008, reported a billion dollars in profits that came largely from contracts with the federal government. The inmates’ medical care had been subcontracted to a private health-care provider whose practices had previously been investigated by the Department of Justice.”


About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet,, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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