Thursday, March 19, 2009

Cities and counties rely on U.S. immigrant detention fees

By Anna Gorman
March 17, 2009
Los Angeles Times

"At a time when local law enforcement agencies are being forced to cut
budgets and freeze hiring, cities across Southern California have found a
growing source of income -- immigration detention.

"Roughly two-thirds of the nation's immigrant detainees are held in local
jails, and the payments to cities and counties for housing them have increased
as the federal government has cracked down on illegal immigrants with criminal
records and outstanding deportation order.

"Washington paid nearly $55.2 million to house detainees at 13 local jails
in California in fiscal year 2008, up from $52.6 million the previous year. The
U.S. is on track to spend $57 million this year.

"The largest federal contract in the state is with the Los Angeles County
Sheriff's Department, whose 1,400-bed detention center in Lancaster is dedicated
to housing immigrants either awaiting deportation or fighting their cases in
court. The department received $34.7 million in 2008, up from $32.3 million the
previous year. [...]

"Santa Ana's Police Department, for example, expects as much as a 15%
budget cut and has had a hiring freeze since October that has resulted in more
than 60 sworn and civilian positions remaining vacant, Police Chief Paul Walters
said. To offset reductions, Walters plans to convert two multipurpose rooms at
the 480-bed jail into dormitory rooms this spring. That will accommodate an
additional 32 immigrant detainees, which he expects will bring in $1 million
more in revenue each year. He also hopes to get approval to raise the nightly
price per detainee from $82 to $87.

""We treat [the jail] as a business," Walters said. "The cuts could have
been much deeper if it weren't for the ability to raise money there.""

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