Amnesty or Abolition? Felons, illegals, and the case for a new abolition movement

Nearly 10 percent of California’s residents are prisoners, parolees, felons, or undocumented immigrants. Although differently constituted, these groups form a caste of persons living in the Golden State for whom neither democracy nor freedom is guaranteed. Prisoners, parolees, and undocumented immigrants cannot vote. Parolees, felons, and undocumented immigrants are variously denied access to public housing, food stamps, educational loans, and employment. Prisoners, deportees, and immigrant detainees are forcibly removed from their families and communities, while undocumented immigrants, parolees, and persons under warrant live with the constant fear of arrest.

Disfranchised, denied core protections of the social welfare state, and imprisoned, detained, or under threat of warrant or deportation, the status of undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and ex-offenders in the United States pivots on shared exclusions from full political and social membership. This story of democracy denied and freedom unfound is one of clear racial significance across the country, with blacks and Latinos comprising an extraordinary 60 percent of the total prison population in the United States.  Home to a substantive slice of the nation’s undocumented and incarcerated populations, California is a heartland of racial exclusion in the United States today.

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Kelly Lytle Hernández

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Image by Amit Gupta

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