Nevada Ramps Up Prisoner Deportations – Even Those Ineligible for Early Release
by Matt Clarke
In an attempt to reduce prison overcrowding and save money, Nevada has expanded its efforts to deport incarcerated non-citizens, including those not eligible for early release.
Nevada began its deportation program in 2007 when 100 parole-eligible prisoners signed an agreement not to contest their deportations if the Pardons Board would grant them parole. Those prisoners were then turned over to ICE, transported to the border in Arizona and returned to Mexico.
The program’s success caused state officials to seek additional prisoners to deport. Those eligible for parole were scheduled for hearings, while those not immediately eligible for parole were nonetheless referred to the board for review. In the course of the past fiscal year, another 600 Nevada prisoners were transferred to ICE to begin deportation proceedings.
Still, 1,720 prisoners with ICE holds remain in the Nevada prison system, or about 13.2% of the state’s prison population. They are not eligible for the deportation program, which is limited to nonviolent prisoners with little or no prior criminal history.
Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty, a member of the Pardons Board, strongly supports the program and said he will ask the board to consider additional deportation cases to further reduce the state’s overcrowded prison system.
Nevada is also considering early release for non-immigrant prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes who have two years or less to serve on their sentences. Those prisoners would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and placed in alternative-to-incarceration programs, such as probation. Justice Michael Cherry, another member of the Pardons Board, noted that such programs should be “much cheaper than prison.”
While Nevada’s deportation program may help reduce prison overcrowding and cut costs, it also has a negative impact on the families of deported prisoners. According to a Human Rights Watch report released on April 15, 2009, twenty percent of deported non-citizens had been in the U.S. legally but were subject to deportation under the draconian Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
The most common crimes resulting in deportation were nonviolent drug charges and traffic offenses. The report estimates that over 1 million family members – many of whom are U.S. citizens – have been separated from their loved ones due to deportations from 1997 to 2007.
“We have to ask why, in a time of fiscal crisis, significant immigration enforcement funds are being spent on deporting legal residents who already have been punished for their crimes,” said Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. Program for Human Rights Watch. “Many of these people have lived in the country legally for decades, some have served in the military, others own businesses. And often, they are facing separation from family members, including children, who are citizens or legal residents.”
Sources: Las Vegas Sun; Fresno Bee; “Forced Apart: Non-Citizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses,” Human Rights Watch (April 2009)
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