Sheriffs "Market" Themselves To Get More Immigrant Detainees… And The Money That Follows

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

Immigrants at an Arizona detention center. Photo: NPR/AP

The system for keeping undocumented immigrants in detention pending the resolution of their cases, and, for many of them, their deportation, has been under strong criticism recently after detainee deaths exposed the deplorable treatment inmates receive in some of those jails.

Turns out some of the jails also represent a windfall for the communities that host them.

According to a report by The Boston Globe, this yearthe federal government budgeted $1.7 billion nationwide” to cover the expenses of holding detainees. Thirty thousand of them are held on any given day, “almost four times as many as in 1995.”

The Globe’s Maria Sachetti wrote,

Bristol (County, Massachusetts) and other cash-strapped county jails are increasingly embracing the immigration business, capitalizing on the soaring number of foreign-born detainees and the millions of federal dollars a year paid to incarcerate them. Bristol County alone has raked in $33 million since 2001 (…)

“That money is a tremendous boost for us,” said Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., whose jail houses 324 immigrants, up from 44 a decade ago, bringing in $15.6 million last year. “We aggressively try to market ourselves to get as many of those inmates into our doors as we can.”

Advocates for immigrants complain about the huge burden on taxpayers these jails represent and the risks the inmates run.

Two weeks ago, a second death at the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, Va., highlighted the dismal conditions some detainees face.

Monday, the widow of a Chinese immigrant who died at a Rhode Island privately-run detention center filed a federal lawsuit against the facility’s owners, warden and staff, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other defendants.

According to The Associated Press,

Hiu Lui ‘Jason’ Ng, a 34-year-old computer engineer accused of overstaying his visa, died of late-stage liver cancer in August, weeks after being taken to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls. His cancer went undiagnosed until days before his death.

The lawsuit claims Ng “was denied medical care, abused and accused of faking his illness in the weeks before he died of cancer,” The A.P. said. After determining Ng did not receive proper medical care, federal authorities pulled immigration detainees from the jail and terminated their contract with Wyatt.

At the same time, NPR‘s Jennifer Ludden reports, although there are more agents to arrest immigrants and government lawyers to prosecute them, immigration judges have been left out of the expansion.

One solution is the increasing use of videoconferencing for court hearings. “The Justice Department says this is an important ‘force multiplier’ and money-saver,” Ludden reports. “But immigration lawyers complain it undermines their cases.”

Local sheriffs seem pleased to have found in the immigrant jails a great new source of income.

“The revenue that is generated from this has been a lifesaver for my budget,” Sheriff Andrea Cabral of Suffolk County in Massachusetts told The Globe. “Otherwise the building would be empty, and I’d be struggling a lot more with some of the issues that we’ve had.”

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AboutDiego Graglia
Diego Graglia is a bilingual multimedia journalist who has worked at major media outlets in the U.S. and Latin America. He is currently the editor-in-chief at Expansion, Meixco’s leading business magazine.