Jailing the Undocumented

June 20 2006, 3:02 AM
Colorado is featured prominently in a New York Times article today on the cost of jailing undocumented residents. Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden has instituted new procedures at the county jail so that it is easier to deport misdemeanor offenders after they have served their sentences. The Times states federal reports indicate Colorado spent $46 million to house "illegal immigrant inmates." Most of that, however, is spent on offenders in state prisons, not local jails. Sheriff Alderden estimates that $1 million was spent by Larimer County. Many of those in the state prisons are legal immigrants who become deportable only after their conviction for what is called an "aggravated felony," a term that includes drug offenses, theft, forgery and crimes of moral turpitude as well as violent crimes. Deportation is mandatory for all of these offenses. I find it curious that as the Times reports,
Despite the political furor, there have been no moves to curtail prison terms for illegal immigrants or to deport them before they finish serving their sentences, corrections officials said.
Why not? If the issue is the money we could save by not incarcerating the undocumented, it seems the simple solution is to suspend their jail sentences upon conviction and turn them over to federal Immigration authorities for detention pending conclusion of their deportation proceedings. Should they later turn up in the U.S. and commit another crime, not only could the suspended sentence then be imposed, but they would be charged with the federal offense of illegal entry after deportation. Why should we pay, for example, to house a drug offender for six years when he is going to be deported anyway at the end of the sentence? It makes more sense to deport him upon conviction and let him be some other country's problem. Once he's turned over to federal custody, Colorado wouldn't even have to bear the cost of his detention pending deportation. One other quote in the article deserves mentioning. Former Gov. Dick Lamm, sounding more and more like Tom Tancredo, tells the Times,
"We've got enough of our own homegrown criminals," Mr. Lamm said. "Why are we importing more?"
Where is the evidence we are importing criminals? How many of the undocumented had criminal records in their country of origin as opposed to committing their first offense here? Is he saying they were criminals before they committed a crime? This sounds to me like a cheap soundbite meant to inflame. It inflamed me, but not the way Mr. Lamm intended.