The number of immigrants locked up in US jails has exploded in the past 15 years, after a law that allows "double punishment" was introduced. Today, 30,000 detainees are awaiting deportation.
The number of detained immigrants in the US has gone from 5,000 in 1994 to more than 30,000 in 2008 according to a study by OneAmerica, a non-profit organisation in collaboration with the Seattle University School of Law. The explosion in numbers is due to a change in the law passed in 1996, which classed almost any crime taken out by an immigrant as an "aggravated crime". Whether you're robbing a bank or just smoking a spliff, you're on the list.
When an immigrant's found guilty of an "aggravated crime", they will have already completed the length of their sentence by the time they reach the detention centre, to then wait for extradition. The law doesn't only affect those who've committed crimes after 1996. It's retroactive and so takes in crimes committed beforehand. Therefore, immigrants with a criminal record who leave the country risk being sent to a detention centre on their return and then extradited. While some Americans find the rule "unfair and insane", others consider it normal that immigrants are subjected to stricter rules than US citizens.
The biggest problem with this law is that it's retroactive. Non-citizens charged with small crimes before 1996 were systematically told by their lawyer to plead guilty because at that time they didn't risk much more than a fine. But now, since the law has changed, the same people risk being sent to detention centres if ever they venture out of the country and try to come back. Almost all crimes related to drugs or firearms are now considered aggravated offences."