The Interactive Effects of National Origin and Immigration Status on Latino Drug Traffickers in U.S. Federal Courts

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Abstract: The present study was an intragroup examination of noncitizen Latino drug traffickers convicted in the federal courts from 2006 to 2014. Drawing upon focal concerns theory and Sayad's state-centered perspective on the role of governments in framing the crime-immigration debate, this study assessed whether offenders' national origin conditions the effects of immigration status on the odds of receiving a downward departure (lenient sentencing) and the magnitude of the sentence discount imposed. Particular attention was paid to whether any effects worked to the detriment of Mexicans relative to non-Mexicans. The findings revealed that the effect of immigration status was contingent on offenders' national origin for the departure decision, but not the sentence discount. While being undocumented served to decrease the odds of a downward departure regardless of national origin, the effects were greater for Mexicans than for non-Mexicans. These findings indicate that contrary to the goals of the U.S. sentencing guidelines to reduce unwarranted disparities surrounding national origin, the current federal sentencing structure allows them to thrive.

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