An important ruling came down in Nevada last week, when a federal judge ruled that a longstanding law that makes it a felony to reenter the United States after deportation is unconstitutional because it’s explicitly racist in its origins. Currently, Federal laws make it a misdemeanor to enter the country without permission and a felony to reenter, punishable by up to six months in prison for entry and up to 20 years for reentry. Illegal entry and re-enter are some of the most commonly prosecuted crimes in Federal Courts. There will likely be an appeal filed in the Nevada case.
On Aug. 18 a case against Gustavo Carrillo-Lopez was dismissed after he was indicted for being in the U.S. after previously being deported. The judge held that Carrillo-Lopez had shown that the reentry law was “enacted with a discriminatory purpose and that the law has a disparate impact on Latin persons.” The government failed to show it “would have been enacted absent racial animus.” The ruling is an important judicial acknowledgment of the racist bias in certain laws, like the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, that criminalize reentry. The laws are in contradiction with constitutional equal protection guarantees, and perpetuate a stigmatizing disparate impact on Latinos and Hispanic people. The ruling is also recognition that courts can and should strike down laws motivated by bias, especially given the prevalence of approaches to law enforcement that are inextricably linked to race and identity, like drug-crime sentencing.