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Federal Rapid REPAT Program Not Working in Rhode Island

A federally-funded program designed to help states remove illegal immigrants held in state prison systems if they agree to immediate deportation from the U.S. has had no impact in Rhode Island, according to Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union.

The Rapid REPAT (Removal of Eligible Parolees Accepted for Transfer) program, administered by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), although successfully utilized in other states, has had dismal results in Rhode Island. A year-and-a-half after the state signed up for the program, not one illegal immigrant had been deported early.

Many states facing large budget deficits, such as California and Illinois, have used financial concerns to justify early releases for certain prisoners who had not completed their full sentences. According to ICE, the REPAT program has saved some states millions of dollars and has resulted in thousands of immigrant prisoners being deported and returned to their home countries.

To qualify for REPAT, illegal immigrants must have already been convicted in state court and held in custody. They must have received final orders of deportation, which they agree not to contest. Additionally, they must waive any appeals they might have related to their state court convictions and agree not to return to the United States after they are deported (if they do, they face stiff penalties of up to 20 years in prison). They also must volunteer for the program.

ICE claims that Rapid REPAT and a similar program in effect previously have resulted in the removal of 3,612 immigrant prisoners in Georgia, plus 2,700 in Arizona. Other states participating in the program include New York and Oregon; Puerto Rico was the first jurisdiction to sign up, in 2008.

Rhode Island agreed to participate in the REPAT program after Governor Donald Carcieri issued an executive order cracking down on illegal immigrants, saying the state could not “afford to bear the financial burden of providing housing and rehabilitative treatment to inmates who committed crimes while here illegally.”

Despite such political rhetoric, in practice the REPAT program has had less than stellar results in Rhode Island.

Sources:, ICE fact sheet

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