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Arizona sending more illegals to feds

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BILL RADKE: Keeping illegal immigrants in jail is expensive. It’s one reason Arizona’s budget is a mess. So the state is sending some of its detainees to the feds.

Arizona has been transferring illegal immigrants from state to federal prisons to serve the final months of their sentences, thus sticking the federal taxpayer with the bill. Starting today, Arizona’s governor is stepping up the program.

Jeff Tyler reports.

JEFF TYLER: Each month, Arizona transfers 200 nonviolent criminal immigrants from state prison to federal custody.

Paul Senseman is spokesman for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. He says the state will send the feds up to 1,200 more inmates in the next year-and-a-half.

PAUL SENSEMAN: The preliminary estimates are it could save as much as $2 million just in this fiscal year alone, possibly $3.5 million or more in the next fiscal year.

Other states are trying different approaches.

In California, Governor Schwarzenegger may commute the sentences of some illegal immigrants and deport them. Deporting 600 inmates could save California about $15 million.

But some wonder if the feds have adequate funding to handle a flood of new detainees.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors tighter immigration controls. He says Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, has released inmates in the past due to a lack of resources.

MARK KRIKORIAN: They’re going to be in a real pickle, because they’re going to have more deportable aliens that they need to detain than they have space for.

If it needs more money, ICE will have to get in line. At least a dozen governors complain that the federal government doesn’t properly reimburse states for the cost of detaining illegal immigrants.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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