Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For some jailed illegal immigrants, early release, with a catch (Providence Journal)

For some jailed illegal immigrants, early release, with a catch

01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, September 10, 2008
By Tom Mooney
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — If you’re an illegal immigrant serving time for a nonviolent crime and facing deportation, Rhode Island has a deal for you:

Agree to return to your home country and the Parole Board may release you early from prison.
But if you break the deal and return to the United States, you could be looking at 20 more years in prison.

Governor Carcieri announced yesterday that the state Department of Corrections and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement have signed an agreement in principle that Carcieri said he hopes will prevent some illegal immigrants from slipping through the fingers of law enforcement once snared.

“There is no question in my mind that we have had people who were incarcerated [who] were illegal … that were then paroled back into the community and committing crimes again,” Carcieri said after a news conference announcing a new state fire marshal. “Let’s get them out of here. We got them under our control so we should turn them over to ICE as soon as possible.”

While specifics were few yesterday as to how the program would work, Carcieri said the objective was to improve communication between corrections and immigration officials and speed up the deportation process of some illegal immigrants — one of the goals of his March executive order cracking down on illegal immigrants.

(The agreement would not affect inmates serving sentences for violent crimes who are also illegal immigrants. They would remain locked up until they completed their sentences and then turned over to immigration.)

“Right now, the way it’s been operating, frankly, they’re [immigration] not involved in the process until after someone’s been paroled,” the governor said. “These are people we have in prison and I don’t want to see them released back into the community again. While we got them, turn them over to ICE if they’re here illegally.”

Immigration officials do, now, review prison records regularly and flag those inmates who they want corrections officials to hold for further review of their immigration status. Not all inmates with immigration holds are illegal immigrants who get deported.

Under this agreement, that review would begin sooner for those charged with nonviolent offenses and approaching parole eligibility — with freedom as the enticement for the inmate’s cooperation.

The inmate would get out of prison sooner, the state would save money on his supervision, and ICE would have deported one more person.

The inmate would also have to waive any appeal rights associated with the conviction.

If he or she returned to the United States, their parole would be revoked and they would be confined for the remainder of their original sentence and then could face a felony charge carrying a 20-year penalty for illegally reentering the country.

Parole Board Chairman Kenneth Walker said, however, that the agreement has “several bugs” that must be worked out, and any quick implementation “is premature.”

For instance, parole guidelines now require a parolee to have a job and a place to live — in the United States — prior to being released. And “there are certain countries that don’t have a parole process at all, so this is not a cut-and-dry type of thing. There are questions about how it will be implemented. It’s not a done deal.”

Said Walker: “We are all on the same page on illegal, nonviolent offenders being sent back to whatever country that they are from, provided that country will accept them. But the machinery for that to happen, from my perspective, has not been worked out yet.”

Last November, ICE officials began meeting with state executive agencies around the country to see whether they might adopt this initiative. An ICE Web site says the program can save states money because those inmates who agree to deportation are out of prison sooner.

The last snapshot of the state prison’s population, taken June 30, showed 33 inmates who could fit the definition of having been convicted of a nonviolent crime and facing potential deportation.
Carcieri said yesterday that the cost-savings was just one benefit of the plan, which he would like to see implemented as soon as possible.

“If they are here illegally and they’ve committed crimes, they shouldn’t be here to start with,” he said.

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