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- 08-04-2009, 01:39 PM #1
UT-Prison uncertain whether it will use staff to enforce imm
Prison uncertain whether it will use staff to enforce immigration for feds
The Salt Lake Tribune
August 2, 2009
By Steve Gehrke
While other state agencies scramble to implement new laws cutting off undocumented immigrants from state services, the Department of Corrections has a leg up -- it has been denying benefits to undocumented prisoners for years.
Changes for the prison system, thanks to Senate Bill 81, will be limited to screening the status of all new hires and contractors.
But immigration reform could still pinch the department.
Corrections Deputy Director Mike Haddon says the department is waiting for direction from the governor on whether the state probation and parole agents will be "cross-deputized" -- trained to do the federal work of identifying undocumented prisoners.
Waiting on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to do that job can take six months to a year, Haddon said. The problem with speeding the process using probation and parole officers: they're already swamped with work on the heels of statewide budget cuts.
"Our staff has a lot to do," Haddon said, saying the department was looking to the Governor's Office for guidance.
Prison officials know they have 341 undocumented inmates locked up in Utah facilities, which comprises nearly 5.5 percent of the state inmate population. But Haddon acknowledged there might be many more not yet tagged as non-citizens.
Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, argues the state and counties should cross-deputize, in part because they will be reimbursed by the federal government for each known undocumented inmate. He believes the current undocumented prison population could be as high as 15 percent.
The immigration status of many inmates already has been determined in county jails by the time they reach prison. ICE agents or cross-deputized county authorities can place a detainer on those people so they can be deported after their jail or prison sentence is over.
Washington and Weber are the only two of Utah's 29 counties that have cross-deputized local sheriff's deputies.
Other jails vary in their practices. At Salt Lake County, booking officers ask for a suspected offender's birth country so they can notify embassies, said Salt Lake County sheriff's Lt. Don Hutson. The county leaves any further investigation for ICE and does not plan to cross-deputize officers.
At stake in a prisoner's immigration status: behind-bars privileges. Unlike U.S. citizens serving prison sentences, undocumented inmates don't leave their cells to work, go to class or even get help from rehabilitative programs.
"We will not allow anyone with an ICE detainer or anyone illegal to engage in programming," said Mike Haddon. "We preserve those spots for people who are legal residents of the U.S."
Corrections Deputy Director of Operations Robyn Williams added that the quash extends to prison jobs and education.
While "warehousing" prisoners, or shutting them out from rehabilitation, goes against the Corrections mission of helping offenders to succeed, Haddon said the prison is simply putting U.S. citizens first in its crowded programs.
"It's not that we're purposefully violating our mission," Haddon said, adding that inmates must earn jobs and programming at the prison through good behavior.
Herrod likes the prison's policy.
"These are people who are going to be deported, so why spend our resources?" he said.
But not everyone is on board.
Archie Archuleta, chairman of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, said undocumented criminals should not become "third or fourth class" prisoners.
"It's almost brutish," Archuleta said. "It draws the lines between certain kinds of people and treats one in an inferior fashion."
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said he understands Corrections' need to ration resources, but lifelong damage from crimes such as sex offenses "transcend the debate about immigration."
"I'm concerned for everyone's public safety, not just those on one side of the border," Litvack said. "I want the child down the street from me protected just as much as I don't want to see a child in Mexico victimized by someone who could have benefited from treatment."
But Latino community activist Tony Yapias says he's OK with blocking undocumented criminals from prison programs.
"It doesn't make sense to me, as a taxpayer, to spend money on foreign nationals who have committed crimes here," Yapias said. "If you're here undocumented, the last thing you should be thinking about is committing a crime. It gives [Latinos] a bad image."
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, who during the last session backed a law that required inmates to pay for their own education behind bars, said he is concerned about giving any prisoners privileges -- citizen or not.
Said Wimmer: "[Prison] is not supposed to be summer camp. It is, indeed, supposed to be punishment," Wimmer said.
email@example.com Across the United States, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has trained more than 1,000 local authorities in immigration enforcement since January 2006. Those local agents have identified more than 120,000 people in the United States illegally -- mostly in jails -- according to the Department of Homeland Security.
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