A Media Trackers follow-up investigation has learned that the Montana Department of Corrections lists imprisoned illegal immigrants from Mexico as “white,” “Caucasian” and “Native American,” in it’s biennial report to the legislature and the public.
In 2013, this author reported on the arrest of Clemente Arciga, a man who was featured as a “Cinderella Story” by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in September 2012 for leaving a life of crime behind in California to raise his four children in Montana. Arciga was later arrested in August of 2013 on charges of raping a teen girl and sentenced to 15 years in state prison for sexual assault and assault on a minor. The Chronicle never mentioned it’s previous report on Arciga, identifying him in the arrest report as a Montana State University student.
Although Arciga admitted in the Chronicle story that he was born in Mexico and had not yet obtained U.S. citizenship, the Department of Corrections correctional offender database lists Arciga as “white” and a Montana resident.
Upon further searching, Arciga is not the only person of Hispanic and/or Mexican origin who is classified as “white” and a Montana resident by the system.
When contacted by Media Trackers, DOC Communications Director Judy Beck said that information on citizenship is self-reported, and could not be considered reliable. When pressed further, however, Beck said that much of the information on offenders is taken from the national Criminal Justice Information Network, as well as consultation from the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service and self-reported data.
Part of the reason that offenders from Mexico are classified as “white” is because most federal agencies now distinguish between race and ethnicity. The federal government started requiring collection of information on both race and ethnicity in 2003. Race does not include an option for Hispanic or Latino, while ethnicity explicitly distinguishes between Hispanic/Latino and non-Hispanic/Latino. In fact, the manual provided to law enforcement agencies by the Bureau of Justice Statistics explicitly tells data collectors to classify offenders as “white” under race even if they self-report being Hispanic or Latino.
The state database seems to follow these recommendations. Beck said that the DOC system does not capture ethnicity and follows U.S. Census Bureau guidelines. The search options available in the Montana Correctional Offender database are show below:
However, a quick search of U.S. Census data shows that Hispanic is classified separately from white for public data purposes.
While the classification of Hispanic and illegal immigrant inmates as “white” makes sense for the DOC when following federal guidelines, the DOC goes even further in its biennial report to legislators and the public. In statistics provided in the report, the federally mandated “white” becomes “Caucasian” in many parts of the report. Caucasian is a narrower designation that is not used in federal guidelines and refers to specifically to the Caucasus mountains and people of European ancestry when used to specify race. Webster’s Dictionary defines “caucasian” as “referring to persons of European descent having usually light skin pigmentation.”
While one part of the 128-page Montana report classify offenders using the federal designation “white”:
several other pages of the report classify using the more specific terms “caucasian” and “American Indian” in lieu of Native American. There are also designations for “other minority,” which one might assume would include Hispanic.
While the numbers of white and Caucasian offenders may be inflated by the inclusion of Hispanic and Mexican immigrant inmates in the state, they may also be inflating the numbers of Native Americans from inside the state. Media Trackers also found incidents of offenders with common Hispanic names that classified themselves as Native American.
The report from the DOC takes special note to mention that the rates of offense and incarceration are much higher than their representation in the state population. In testimony in January to a Joint Subcommittee of the Legislature on Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement and Justice, Department of Corrections Director Mike Batista told legislators and the public that the rate of incarceration for Native American males is currently 20 percent, approximately triple their demographic makeup in the state. The report also shows that 33 percent of incarcerated females are Native American, approximately one in three.
When asked by Democratic representative Kimberly Dudik (Missoula) about the discrepancy, Batista said it was hard to pinpoint the reason for the high rates of incarceration, but his agency would continue looking into the high rates for Natives. While some Montanans might find it deceptive for immigrants from the Southwest and Mexico to classify themselves as Native American, the trend is not necessarily new. The New York Times ran a profile in 2011 along with several other news agencies of Hispanics who classified themselves as Native American because of their roots in the Southwest and Mexico.
Republican state Senator Kris Hansen (Havre), who served on the Joint Subcommittee, told Media Trackers she was surprised to learn that the DOC was classifying Mexican citizens and Hispanics as “white” and “Native American” in their reports to the public.
“It is definitely a surprise to me to learn about the classification,” Hansen said.
Hansen said she would assume that classifications such as “Native American” would refer more to Montana tribes, not those from the Southwest and Mexico. Hansen said she may look into the matter further in her work on sentencing committees during the interim.
Batista told the legislative committee that it currently costs $30,000 per year to keep an inmate in the state prisons, and since 2010 Montana has seen correctional costs rise approximately 8 percent, or $14.5 million.
Overall, it’s difficult to even investigate what the costs to the state may be. The state is often following federal guidelines that classify Hispanic and Mexican immigrants as “white.” Much of the data on race is self-reported by the offenders themselves, and many offenders may be of mixed race, causing them to appear incorrectly classified. Even searching for the data is difficult, since searches for common Hispanic names bring back a message that there are too many results to even show. Still, it is a mystery as to why there would be absolutely no mention in any report, written or verbal of the practice of classifying Hispanics and Mexican citizens as white, Caucasian, or Native American.
Batista was announced as one of Democratic Governor Steve Bullock’s first cabinet appointments in November 2012 just weeks after his successful election to governor. Batista’s wife Shelly is a frequent donor to Bullock’s multiple elections. Campaign Finance Disclosures show Shelly Batista giving three times to Bullock’s 2008 Attorney General campaign, five times to Bullock’s 2012 governor’s campaign and already making a donation to his re-election campaign in 2016. Bullock has come out publicly in the past against laws in the state designed to withhold state services to illegal immigrants.