Immigration Reform is Not the Only Latino Issue

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August 12, 2014 - By Stephanie Izquieta

National news headlines as of late have focused on immigration reform as the main Latino issue that will drive Hispanics in numbers to the polls come midterm season, but immigration reform should not be the only thing on Latino voters or politicians’ minds. Drug policy reform is very much a Latino issue and something that more Hispanic organizations should pay mind to.

In 2011 nearly 52 million Hispanics lived in the U.S., accounting for 17 percent of the U.S. population, a modest jump from 13 percent back in 2000. The Latino population, already the nation’s largest minority group, is set to transmogrify the demographic profile of the United Sates according to the Pew Research Center.

If current trends continue, the center predicts that the Latino population will triple in size and will account for most of the nation’s population growth from 2005 through 2050. Hispanics will make up 29 percent of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14 percent in 2005. But why do these numbers matter?

They matter because in the same way that marijuana arrest rates have managed to sweep thousands of people into the criminal justice system, particularly blacks in disproportionate numbers, I foresee similar arrest rates and patterns happening to Latino communities.

In fact, these disproportionate arrest rates may already be happening. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), the federal government’s data source for national crime statistics, does not keep data on ethnicity, and thus it is impossible to determine if an arrest is of a Latino or non-Latino. New York is one of only two states that have Latino arrest data available; Latinos are arrested at nearly four times the rate of whites for marijuana.

This is both alarming and concerning for a couple of reasons. First, as a Hispanic-American and future policy maker it makes me apprehensive towards the clear racist and classist bias our criminal justice system is embedded in. Second, this means that the disparity between black and white arrest rates may be even larger than previously thought as white arrest rates may have been artificially inflated. And thirdly, and perhaps the most worrisome is that thousands of Latino American born citizens will face discrimination for something as arbitrary as the color of their skin.

Because let’s be honest the war on drugs has never been about drugs, it has been about going after people we don’t really like in our society.

The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color.

California has already taken the initiative proving that with enough momentum and support que ¡Si se puede!

Stephanie Izquieta is an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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