The El Paso County sheriff quickly earned federal immigration officials’ attention by warning that he’d start driving undocumented immigrants from his jail to the Mexican border rather than continue to pay for their upkeep, and release some to the streets.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials last week told U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., that they will consider opening a Colorado Springs office to help process the immigrants for deportation.
That’s welcome news to county officials, but they say it won’t do anything to ease the county’s more than $1 million annual cost for housing undocumented immigrants.
“It won’t solve the problem, but it will speed up processing and create a push to bring a detention facility,” said Jim Bensberg, chairman of the El Paso County commissioners.
“The situation can’t get any worse than it is.”
El Paso County spent $1.2 million in 2004 to jail illegal immigrants, said Bensberg. This year, the price tag will be higher because the jail is now housing 75 to 100 undocumented workers a day, compared with 50 to 60 last year, he said.
“That’s a big chunk of change,” said Bensberg, who wrote Allard about the problem. “The county can’t afford that.”
Sheriff Terry Maketa, who notified ICE and the Mexican consulate that he wanted to drive some of the undocumented inmates to the Mexican border, was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
But Undersheriff Teri Goodall said about 75 percent of the undocumented inmates face charges ranging from misdemeanor traffic offenses to attempted murder. If they’re convicted, they enter the state correction system.
But the other 25 percent are held only as undocumented immigrants and are rarely deported upon release, she said.
ICE has offices in Denver and Pueblo, but the federal detention facilities are usually full. Nationally, ICE has capacity for 19,444 inmates, said Carl Rusnok, ICE’s communication director. Denver and most Colorado towns also house hundreds of illegal immigrants for ICE.
By the numbers
$43 million El Paso County sheriff’s budget
$180,000 received in federal reimbursement for housing illegal immigrants in 2004
$1.2 millon Annual cost of holding illegal immigrants, criminal and non-criminal, in the El Paso County Jail
80-100 Average daily population of illegal immigrants in the El Paso County Jail in 2005.
30,000 undocumented workers reside in El Paso County, which has 565,000 residents.