According to Julie Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, the program only involves low-level offenders. Most of those deported are charged with non-violent crimes such as drunken driving and drug offenses.
“People who are eligible for this program do not have significant criminal histories in Mexico or any other country,” she stated.
Under the current guidelines only about 4 percent of the illegal aliens incarcerated in Arizona’s prisons are eligible for the Rapid Repatriation program. Guidelines stipulate that eligible prisoners must serve half of their sentence, agree not to fight extradition, and not have a violent offense. Those caught reentering the U.S. would be required to serve the remainder of their original sentence plus up to an additional 20 years in prison.
Statistics show that, on average, immigrant prisoners who have been deported under the program received about 210 days off the full sentence they would have served.
Schriro estimates that nearly 1,000 prisoners would be deported in 2008 and about 250 more in 2009. ICE has offered the Rapid Repatriation program to all 50 states; thus far only Arizona is participating, but other states appear ready to join.
Florida state Sen. Mike Bennett has already made plans to introduce a Repatriation Bill. “These people are going to he deported when they get done anyhow. Why not speed the process and get them out of here?”
Nationwide over 300,000 immigrant prisoners are eligible for deportation. Over the next several years Myers predicts that number could go as high as 455,000, which would cost taxpayers over $2 billion annually.
U.S. Rep. David Price, however, feels that the Rapid Repatriation program is being handled irresponsibly. He said the $200 million appropriated for the program did “not meet the legal requirements” set forth in the original agreement.
Still, most lawmakers agree that illegal immigrant prisoners should be deported as quickly as possible, and are working to streamline the process. One problem is the lack of a shared database between state and federal agencies. ICE hopes to push the use of new technology and to educate state law enforcement officers on which prisoners are deportable.
David Leopold of the American Immigration Lawyers Association fears that such an effort may be counterproductive. “Immigration law is confusing and convoluted and not user friendly,” he warned. “To turn that over to local law enforcement without training is asking for trouble.”
At least one Arizona lawman also opposes the program, but for a different reason. “Why are we giving these guys breaks?” asked Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “Why don’t they do the full time, just like a U.S. citizen? If they are worried about money, if they don’t have room, I have a tent city. I’ll take as many of them as you want.”
Arpaio has a reputation for abusive behavior towards prisoners; he has also targeted illegal (and sometimes legal) immigrants, conducting widely-condemned “sweeps” based on racial profiling. On February 4, 2009, raising xenophobia to a new level, Arpaio marched about 200 chained illegal immigrants from the Durango Jail in Phoenix to his infamous Tent City, where they will be housed in a segregated section enclosed by an electric fence.
AZDOC director Dora Schriro announced her resignation on January 27, 2009; she is headed to Washington to accompany former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, who will serve as director of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. Based upon Arizona’s experience with the Rapid Repatriation program, similar efforts may be implemented in other states.
Sources: Arizona Republic, Phoenix New Times, www.ktar.com
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