By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — A new study shows the Federal “Secure Communities Program,” which aims to extend prison stays and the deportation of people perceived as threats, is straining local budgets costing taxpayers about $12.5 million a year.
It works like this: When an immigrant is arrested, his or her fingerprints are run and sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE analyzes them using biometric technology — physiological and behavioral identification of humans by their characteristics or traits. If the prints belong to an immigrant — including legal residents — and he is considered a threat to society, local law enforcement is notified and is free to prolong the incarceration period or deport of the individual.
Attorney Edward Ramos wrote the study, “Fiscal Impact Analysis of Miami-Dade’s Policy on Immigration Detainers.”
According to the report, naturalized citizens — those not subject to ICE scrutiny — spend an average of 21 days in jail, while immigrants are likely to spend on average of 56 days in jail. That’s about 35 days of added jail time, paid for by taxpayers. In Miami-Dade County alone, that’s 91,560 additional days of jail time per year. Assuming an average cost of $140 per inmate per day, that’s more than $12.8 per year.
Miguel Marquez, counsel for Santa Clara County in California, asked in a letter how the program works. David Venturella – former assistant director of ICE, in August of 2010 answered: “ICE does not reimburse localities for detaining any individual until ICE has assumed actual custody of the individual. Further, ICE will not indemnify localities for any liability incurred because the Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits such indemnity agreements by federal agencies”.
Venturella was a known advocate of increasing deportation rates. He now works in the private prison sector for The GEO Group Inc., a private corrections, detention and mental health treatment provider. Janelle Hall is manager of Community Affairs for the Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. She confirmed her department had not received any form of reimbursement from ICE since 2007. Additional costs for extended jail stays were $585,365 in 2010, $1,002,700 in 2011 and $667,076 in 2012, she said.
Ramos says ICE isn’t forcing counties to detain people, yet here’s what typically happens: Average Joe gets stopped for driving without a valid license, and the charge is later dropped. Because ICE ran his prints and the biometric database spits out some probabilities, it can recommend an extended stay. Joe could remain in jail for an unspecified period of time, or until ICE sees fit to issue a release.
Jonathan Fried, executive director of We Count, thinks the system is heavy-handed and wastes taxpayer money. “A person who’s arrested goes to jail and in a few days the case is solved. The problem is that the immigration ‘hold’ ends up requiring a longer stay in jail at the taxpayer’s expense.” WeCount! is a civic organization, part of a national movement supporting immigrants’ rights.
Fried said some people who are arrested pose a serious threat, but surely there are better ways to deal with security threats that don’t involve trampling on personal freedoms and imposing a sizeable burden on the taxpayers.
A March report, “False Promises: The Failure of Secure Communities in Miami-Dade County,” indicates 87 percent of the people detained under the Secure Communities program were eventually deported. From that, only 18 percent were convicted of a felony crime. Florida International University and Americans for Immigrant Justice wrote the report.
Watch the video with attorney Edward Ramos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GQKUymlpSs&feature=youtu.be
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org twitter @mtoledoreporter