Gregoire calls for deportation of jailed illegal aliens
Last updated 1-8-09 at 1:31 p.m.
By Manuel Valdes
The Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) — To save money, Gov. Chris Gregoire wants
illegal aliens serving time in state prisons deported.
Her proposal estimates that deporting illegal
aliens — who are serving or would serve time for drug
or property crime convictions — will save the state more
than $9 million in the next two-year budget.
The state faces a $5.7 billion budget deficit
over the next two and a half years, and
Gregoire has proposed a no new-taxes budget proposal laden with
cuts, including about $200 million from the Department of Corrections,
the attorney general’s office, and other public safety
The deportation proposal is modeled after
a program in Arizona that has saved the state more than $18.5
million since 2005, said Eldon Vail, secretary of the Washington
Department of Corrections.
“It’s not an ideal choice, if revenue was there,
I’d say have them do their time,” Vail said. “Is
justice better served? It’s a tough question to wrestle
with when you don’t have resources.”
The proposal would call for the state to
come to an agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement
(ICE), which would carry out the deportations. In Washington,
there are about 350 prisoners who would be eligible to be transferred
to ICE. On average, it costs the state $90 a day to imprison
an inmate, Vail said.
“Generally, we are always concerned with any attempt by
local [and] state officials to try to enforce immigration law,” said
Jorge Baron, executive director of the
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a legal
aid organization for immigrants.
“It’s a field of law that’s very complex.
In our experience, any time local [and] state agencies get involved,
it leads to problems,” Baron said.
Baron said that people, even with criminal
convictions, can still be eligible for
citizenship under U.S. law in some cases, and others can qualify
Gregoire’s proposal represents a policy shift toward
illegal immigrants from a state that had largely
stayed away from immigration enforcement.
Washington, with its large agricultural
industry, attracts a large number of undocumented
workers, mostly from Mexico.
“We’re not Arizona,” said state Sen. Margarita
Prentice. “Not everybody can be rehabilitated, but I know
no one deserves to be mistreated.”
Prentice, who chairs the Ways and Means
committee and writes the Senate’s budget proposal, said
she will oppose the measure. The veteran
lawmaker is also worried that other programs
that provide humanitarian aid to illegal
immigrant women and their children may
be proposed to be cut.
“Immigrants are a vulnerable group politically that face
the brunt of difficult budget situations,” Baron said. “I
understand this is to preserve state resources, but we’re
often talking about people’s lives.”
Gregoire’s proposal would need approval from state lawmakers
to be enacted, said Chad Lewis, Department
of Corrections spokesman.
Washington would join Arizona and New York
in having similar programs. Between 1995 and 2007, New York
has saved an estimated $141 million by releasing more than 1,950
illegal alien inmates to federal hands, according to the New
York Department of Correctional Services.
Vail said that in Arizona, the state saved
210 days of imprisonment costs per inmate with the number of
people it transferred to federal authorities.
Drug and property convictions include theft
and drug possession, both nonviolent crimes. Vail said the state
would not release violent criminals.
“We’ve looked at a lot of ideas we wouldn’t
normally pursue. This is one where it’s been done successfully,” Vail