John Ransom

The General Accounting Office estimates that as of 2009 there were currently about 350,000 criminal aliens in U.S. prisons, “the majority from Mexico.” At $30,000 per year, per inmate, that’s $11 billion annually, with most of the costs born by the states.  

While not all of the criminal aliens are here illegally, criminal illegals are putting a strain on budgets, especially in the states with large illegal immigration populations such as Arizona, Colorado, California, Florida, New York, and Texas.

Not coincidentally, many of those same states are facing the largest budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2011 and 2012, including New York and California. Some estimate state budget shortfalls of over $100 billion in 2012 across state governments in the U.S.

In California, it’s estimated that prisoners who are illegal immigrants cost the state at least $1 billion per year just to keep them in prison.

Across the country, states' governments are shouldering both the growing financial burden of keeping criminal illegal aliens in jail and the growing law enforcement burden of securing the community from the crimes of illegal aliens in the face of hostility from the executive branch of the federal government.  

Corrections.com trumpets the problem as “Foreign Inmates Busting Budgets.”

"There's no question illegal immigration continues to be a large and costly problem in California and around the nation," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from CA-22, told Bakersfield’s Eyewitness News. "The first and most important step to addressing this problem is securing our border. The federal government can and should do more to ensure our border is secure, including more physical barriers, border patrol and electronic surveillance."

The Denver Post reports that foreign-born inmates are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the Mile High state. The number in U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers in Colorado prisons “have more than doubled in 10 years from 680 to 1,500, said Tom Clements, executive director of the state Department of Corrections,” according to the Post.

"That's huge," Clements emphasized.

As the economy continues to stumble, states are getting pinched hard by the federal government because they refuse to address immigration reform.

In Colorado, Attorney General John Suthers estimates that the cost to house prisoners in the U.S. illegally was $58 million in 2008.

“At the time, the federal government's State Criminal Alien Assistance Program reimbursed Colorado $3.3 million, or about 6 percent of the state's costs,” says the Post. “The amount has since dropped to $2.9 million even as the number of foreign inmates continues to rise.”

These costs have likely grown since 2008 even while federal assistance has dropped.

In California, both Democrats and Republicans are asking President Obama to fund what Colorado’s AG, John Suthers, decries as just another unfunded mandate by the federal government.

"To receive less than full reimbursement for the use of state facilities to house illegal immigrants is an unacceptable, unfunded federal mandate," Suthers said according to the Post.

In California, Democrat Congressman Jim Costa said that "California cannot and should not have to shoulder this burden alone," according to Bakersfield Now. He called upon the federal government to fully fund the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program to help reimburse the costs of detaining illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

But even fully funded, the program just transfers the burden across the country into the wallets of taxpayers from all of the states rather than addressing the issue in any substantive way.

The costs are not just financial either.

In California, the feds have ordered that 33,000 prisoners be released to relieve over-crowding in state prisons. Bakersfield Now estimates that about 20,000 of the states’ 162,000 prisoners are in the U.S. illegally. In other words, they make up about 60 percent of the overcrowding in California prisons while accounting for 13 percent of the prisons’ population.

While it’s unclear how California will comply with the ruling to release prisoners, it’s clear that they will not be able to deport illegal immigrants discharged from prison under the ruling. Instead, they can either be released on parole or can be turned over to the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.

In Texas, “[l]aw enforcement and prison officials have complained that many of the convicts who are paroled to be deported are never sent home, and they end up committing new crimes and getting rearrested,” says the Statesman.com.

That’s in part because under a Supreme Court ruling Clark v. Martinez, ICE can only hold criminal illegal aliens for six months if the convict can’t be repatriated to another country.

“Because of the way current law is written, recent Supreme Court rulings have required dangerous criminal immigrants to be released into our communities,” says Lamar Smith a Texas Republican who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the Tea Party Caucus. “All too often these criminal immigrants have gone on to commit more crimes.”

Instead, Smith is proposing that the Department of Homeland Security be authorized to detain criminal illegal immigrants if they can’t be deported, especially if the criminal “either is an aggravated felon or has committed a crime of violence.”

“Just because a criminal immigrant cannot be returned to their home country does not mean they should be allowed back on our streets,” says Smith. “If dangerous criminal immigrants cannot be deported, they should be detained. There is no excuse for placing American lives at risk.”

There is no excuse at all.

The violations of law and trust by King George III in Parliament pales in comparison to the loss of trust as a result of the non-enforcement of immigration laws, especially as it relates to criminal illegal aliens.

If we can't get the government to agree that at a minumum we shouldn't be releasing criminal illegal aliens back into our communities, I have no idea why we have a federal government in the first place.


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John Ransom

John Ransom is the Finance Editor for Townhall Finance.
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