By Joe Guzzardi
August 8, 2013
Last week the Supreme Court refused to delay the release of thousands of inmates from California state prisons. Severe overcrowding in the prison system has, in the court’s eyes, led to substandard medical and mental health treatment. Despite Governor Jerry Brown’s argument that setting dangerous prisoners free would create mayhem and put residents at risk, 10,000 inmates must be released before December 31 as part of a longer term plan to reduce the prison population by 30,000. The Court rejected Brown’s plea that California has already transferred thousands of low-level and nonviolent offenders to county jails. Unfortunately, local officials have freed some inmates early to ease their own overcrowding issues.
For Californians looking for the bright side, they can take cold comfort in knowing that they’ll no longer have to foot the huge bill for housing thousands of illegal immigrants. The latest data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and originally reported by Bakersfield Eyewitness News found that a staggering number of illegal immigrants are housed in California's prisons and jails with beleaguered taxpayers picking up the tab. According to CDCR’s findings, there were 16,902 inmates on hold for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Also 3,962 prisoners were listed as potential ICE holds.
The total, 20,864 illegal immigrant inmates, represents about 13 percent of California’s prison count. Many come from nations known to sponsor terrorism like Afghanistan, Egypt and the Congo.
More silver lining, if you can call it that: at 13 percent, California’s immigration prison population is lower than the nation’s 20 percent average. But more realistic Californians think they’ve gotten the double whammy. They paid a King’s ransom to house foreign-born criminal inmates who, once released, might victimize them again.
The CDCR estimates the per-inmate cost at nearly $45,000 a year or an aggregate annual taxpayer expense of about $1 billion. The $1 billion is part of the overall cost of illegal immigration in California, estimated at $22 billion by the Federation of American Immigration Reform. Of the immigrants in state prison, the CDCR reports that most (15,985) are from Mexico with 14,037 illegally present but only 1,928 legal residents. More than 1,100 aliens have been convicted of first degree murder.
Potential solutions include sending the foreign nationals home to serve out their sentences. Under California law, the governor or his designee is authorized to approve foreign prisoner transfers as part of the Department of Justice’s International Prisoner Transfer Program, a combination of treaties, conventions, federal and states’ laws.
But the transfer program is rarely used. Created in 1977, only a handful of prisoners have been extradited. When extradition has been to Mexico, convicts frequently return and create a futile revolving door pattern.
The simplest and easiest resolution is vigorous border security that would help keep aliens out of California and thus, by extension, reduce the numbers of crimes they commit. Border security has been talked about and promised for years.
California Reps. Kevin McCarthy and Jim Costa agree that border protection is the key to keeping criminal aliens out of the state’s penal system. But no matter how high illegal immigration’s costs soar, little is ever done. In June, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, that ironically subordinated secure borders to the instant legalization of illegal immigrants. The Senate made vague, down the line enforcement promises but in the end will rely on the Homeland Security Secretary’s opinion to deem, without having to produce tangible evidence, that the border is secure.
The House refuses to take up S. 744 and promises instead to do immigration reform piecemeal with a special emphasis on border security. With Congress on its August recess, wary Americans don’t know what might happen. No wonder they’re leery. When it comes to protecting the border, empty promises have been the rule rather than the exception.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]