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Washington State Sues Over Aliens

The state of Washington filed suit in federal district court on November 22, 1995. The suit seeks an injunction which would force the federal government to take all of Washington's 760 illegal alien prisoners (about 7% of the state's prison population) and house them in federal prisons.

A provision of the 1994 crime bill [See: "Federal Crime Bill Passes" Dec. '94 PLN ] states that the U.S. attorney general is either supposed to pay states the average cost of incarcerating illegal aliens or put them in federal prisons. The state applied for compensation ($17 million a year) but Janet Reno said that not enough money was appropriated to pay the full cost; she offered to pay 15 cents on the dollar. Washington's governor then asked Reno to take custody of the illegal aliens. Reno refused, citing a lack of money and prison space.

'No one else gets to ignore the law and pass the costs on to others," Washington's attorney general Christine Gregoire said in a statement. It is not known whether Ms. Gregoire had to put her shoe on the other foot before making this statement.

Several other states, including California, Texas, New Jersey and New York, have sued the federal government over illegal aliens in state prisons. Those suits, which have been unsuccessful, typically have used constitutional arguments or federal laws other than the 1994 crime bill to seek monetary awards.

Washington's suit is based on narrow statutory grounds and doesn't seek a monetary award, which might give it a better chance for success. To date all suits of this type have been dismissed because control of national borders is solely a matter of federal jurisdiction, which cannot be challenged by the states.

Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer

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