Immigrants Bring Big Bucks For Jails

by Chris Sturr | February 09, 2009

The federal government pays sheriffs $90 a day to hold immigrants awaiting deportation. Some sheriffs are aggressively lobbying to have immigrants put in their jails. Local jailers receive $1.7 billion a year from taxpayers to keep people charged with overstaying their visas instead of releasing them pending trials.

From the Boston Globe:

In the newest wing of Bristol County jail, exclusively for immigrants facing deportation, inmates in sunshine-yellow uniforms pass the time in a stuffy dormitory playing cards, flipping through magazines, and chatting in Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew.

Anxiety and boredom fill the room. “It’s been 10 months,” one desperate-looking man told Sheriff Thomas Hodgson in Spanish during a recent tour of the only freestanding immigrant detention center in Massachusetts. “How long do I have to wait?”

The answer isn’t clear. But Hodgson, and other sheriffs across the state, are glad to have them: For each immigrant, they receive an average of $90 a day.

Bristol and other cash-strapped county jails are increasingly embracing the immigration business, capitalizing on the soaring number of foreign-born detainees and the millions of federal dollars a year paid to incarcerate them. Bristol County alone has raked in $33 million since 2001, and has used the money to transform itself into a sprawling campus with a commissary, an ambulance communications center, and a “management accountability building” for regular meetings on jail operations.

“That money is a tremendous boost for us,” said Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., whose jail houses 324 immigrants, up from 44 a decade ago, bringing in $15.6 million last year. “We aggressively try to market ourselves to get as many of those inmates into our doors as we can.”

But advocates for immigrants say the government should dramatically reduce the number of detainees, by releasing them pending deportation. They complain about the burden on taxpayers – this year, the federal government budgeted $1.7 billion nationwide and $42.8 million in New England for detainees – and the risks to immigrants.

Read the rest of the story here.

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