Posted on April 11th, 2009 No commentsA federal program pays less than 12% of the cost for noncitizen criminals. As California renews its bid for funding, some lawmakers are optimistic.Reporting from Washington — Fifteen years after Congress promised that Washington would help states pick up the tab for imprisoning illegal immigrants convicted of crimes, California is receiving but a fraction — less than 12 cents on the dollar — of its nearly $1-billion annual cost.
The unfulfilled promise is perhaps the most glaring example of the federal government shortchanging California.Officials from states greatly affected by illegal immigration long have argued that their taxpayers should not have to bear the burden for Washington’s failure to control the border.
But Congress this year provided $400 million nationwide to cover the cost of keeping illegal immigrants behind bars, less than what was provided a decade ago. In that same period, California’s share of the federal money has declined from 68% to 39%.
“California’s percentage of the total amount gets smaller and smaller each year as the issue of criminal aliens becomes more of a national problem,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village).With states struggling to balance their budgets, California officials are stepping up their efforts to snag more money from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a letter to Washington lawmakers last week that boosting the funding the state receives under the program was his top priority for federal criminal justice funding.
This year, California officials may have reason to be hopeful.
Not only are several Californians in Capitol Hill leadership positions, but a number of high-ranking members of the Obama administration are on record as supporting increased funding.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, when she was Arizona governor, was a leading advocate of boosting the program’s funding, telling Congress last year to “live up to its financial obligation.”
“Secretary Napolitano understands the issue quite well,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is among a bipartisan group of border-state lawmakers pushing for more money. A number of other Cabinet members in their former jobs also supported increased funding, including Labor Secretary Hilda E. Solis, once a California congresswoman.
Faced with a mounting federal budget deficit, the Obama administration has not committed to increasing funding to cover the costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants. But at the very least, President Obama is expected to be more supportive than former President Bush, who sought to eliminate such funding.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to get more,” said Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-San Jose), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The issue is expected to move center stage as Congress again considers an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
California officials long have complained that state taxpayers send more to Washington than they get back in federal aid and services. But the shortage of federal money for illegal immigrants held in county jails and state prisons has been an especially sore point because California is so disproportionately affected.
The state — with about 19,000 illegal immigrants in prisons, or about 11% of the prison population — is projected to receive about $111 million of its $970-million expected cost this year for imprisoning illegal immigrants.
The federal program provides for reimbursement for incarcerating illegal immigrants convicted of a felony or multiple misdemeanors. (Cities and counties separately receive federal money for housing immigrant detainees, many of whom are awaiting deportation or fighting their cases in court.)
The lack of money from Washington, along with overcrowding in the state prison system, led California officials last month to institute a policy to no longer lock up illegal immigrants on parole violations who have served their terms and then reenter the country illegally. State officials say the federal government should prosecute illegal immigrants who return to the country after deportation.
The fight to get Washington to foot the bill dates to the 1986 immigration overhaul, which authorized states to be reimbursed. No funds were appropriated.
In 1994, Congress directed the attorney general, as part of an anti-crime bill, to reimburse states for their costs to incarcerate illegal immigrants or transfer custody of the inmates to federal prison. At the time, California’s cost was about $375 million.
Boosting the funding has been difficult because the program is seen as largely benefiting a handful of states greatly affected by illegal immigration — California, New York, Texas, Florida and Arizona.
Lawmakers from other states say that any increase must be balanced against other spending and the need to reduce the federal deficit. Bush, in seeking to eliminate the appropriation, argued that the funds would be better spent to secure the border.
But other states increasingly are struggling to pay bills for housing illegal immigrants in state prisons and county jails. The Minnesota Department of Corrections, for example, spent about $19 million last year but received only about $1 million from Washington.
A measure sponsored by Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Lakewood) that would provide federal payments to counties for incarcerating illegal immigrants accused of a felony or multiple misdemeanors — not just those convicted — passed the House last year on a voice vote. It did not come up in the Senate. Sanchez has reintroduced the bill and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.
Posted on March 23rd, 2009 No commentsExploitation of illegal immigrants has become worse, officials say, and the failure of U.S. agencies to work together has hindered efforts to stop the organizations.But smugglers affiliated with the drug cartels have taken the enterprise to a new level — and made it more violent — by commandeering much of the operation from independent coyotes, according to these officials and recent congressional testimonies.
U.S. efforts to stop the cartels have been stymied by a shortage of funds and the failure of federal law enforcement agencies to collaborate effectively with one another, their local and state counterparts and the Mexican government, officials say.
U.S. authorities have long focused their efforts on the cartels’ trafficking of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines, which has left a trail of violence and corruption.Reporting from Washington — Mexican drug cartels and their vast network of associates have branched out from their traditional business of narcotics trafficking and are now playing a central role in the multibillion-dollar-a-year business of illegal immigrant smuggling, U.S. law enforcement officials and other experts say.
The business of smuggling humans across the Mexican border has always been brisk, with many thousands coming across every year.Many of those officials now say that the toll from smuggling illegal immigrants is often far worse.
The cartels often further exploit the illegal immigrants by forcing them into economic bondage or prostitution, U.S. officials say. In recent years, illegal immigrants have been forced to pay even more exorbitant fees for being smuggled into the U.S. by the cartel’s well-coordinated networks of transportation, communications, logistics and financial operatives, according to officials.
Many more illegal immigrants are raped, killed or physically and emotionally scarred along the way, authorities say. Organized smuggling groups are stealing entire safe houses from rivals and trucks full of “chickens” — their term for their human cargo — to resell them or exploit them further, according to these officials and documents.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) said greed and opportunity had prompted the cartels to move into illegal immigrant smuggling.
“Drugs are only sold once,” Sanchez, the chairwoman of the House Homeland Security border subcommittee, said in an interview. “But people can be sold over and over. And they use these people over and over until they are too broken to be used anymore.”
The cartels began moving into human smuggling in the late 1990s, initially by taxing the coyotes as they led bands of a few dozen people across cartel-controlled turf near the border.
After U.S. officials stepped up border enforcement after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the price of passage increased and the cartels got more directly involved, using the routes they have long used for smuggling drugs north and cash and weapons south, authorities said.
Sometimes they loaded up their human cargo with backpacks full of marijuana. In many cases, they smuggled illegal immigrants between the two marijuana-growing seasons, authorities said.
Kumar Kibble, deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s office of operations, said the cartels made money by taxing coyotes and engaging in the business themselves.
“Diversification has served them well,” Kibble said.
Unlike the drug-trafficking problem, the cartels’ involvement in human smuggling has received scant attention in Washington.
That is the case even as the Obama administration and Congress increasingly focus their attention on Mexico, fearing that its government is losing ground in a battle against the cartels that has resulted in the deaths of more than 7,000 people since the beginning of 2008.
At one of many congressional hearings on the subject last week, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) unveiled a chart that he said described the cartels’ profit centers: drugs, weapons and money laundering.
“I would add one thing, senator,” said Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard, who then described to Durbin his concerns about the cartels’ movement into illegal immigrant smuggling. “It is really a four-part trade, and it has caused crime throughout the United States.”
Arizona has become the gateway not only for drugs, but also illegal immigrants. Fights over the valuable commodity have triggered a spate of shootings, kidnappings and killings, Goddard and one of his chief deputies said in interviews.
Posted on February 24th, 2009 1 comment
Our view: Racial profiling concerns, record number of federal prosecutions for immigration offenses leave a community feeling under siege
There’s but one plausible explanation for the arrest of 24 Hispanic men by federal immigration agents outside a Fells Point convenience store in 2007 – racial profiling. A recently released videotape and government documents detailing the incident provide a vivid look at how easily law enforcement can run amok when officers are only interested in making their numbers look good.
The officers were agents of the U.S. Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, and they were supposed to be looking for illegal immigrants who had been ordered to leave the country. Their bosses say they were just doing their job. But when their first sweep didn’t produce enough arrests to satisfy their superiors in the agency’s Baltimore office, they went to a local 7-Eleven where day laborers were known to gather and posed as employers. Hispanic men who approached were immediately arrested, while the agents ignored white and African-American customers. That’s a sloppy way of doing the public’s business.
The officers’ conduct tracks the findings of a report last week by the Pew Hispanic Center showing that in 2007, immigration offenses represented nearly a quarter of all federal convictions – up from just 7 percent in 1991 – and that 80 percent of those sentenced were Hispanics.
A similar study by the Transactional Records Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that immigration cases drove federal prosecutions to new highs in 2008, with a surge in prosecutions near the end of the year. Overall, the annual number of such prosecutions more than quadrupled during the eight years of the Bush administration.
A store videotape captured the Baltimore incident and an internal ICE report on it was obtained by CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group that is protesting what it calls racial profiling by the agency. The group points to the taped record as well as to statements by the agents as evidence officials knew they had no probable cause for the arrests and that the men were targeted solely because of their ethnicity.
ICE denies the charges. But that’s not likely to satisfy the nation’s Hispanic community, which has born the brunt of anti-immigrant prejudice. In October, another Pew Center study found that 9 percent of Hispanics reported having been stopped by authorities and asked about their immigration status, regardless of whether they were immigrants or native-born U.S. citizens.
Not surprisingly, fully half of those interviewed said the situation for Hispanics in this country has gotten worse over the last year.
America needs a sensible immigration policy to staunch the flow of illegal workers across its borders. But it can’t do that by simply scooping up people on the basis of their race or ethnicity.
It’s worrisome enough when police feel they have to issue a certain number of parking citations or speeding tickets to please the higher-ups, but when the numbers game leads to arresting people who have committed no crime solely on ethnic, racial or religious grounds, it’s pernicious.