Nebraska jails that are paid to house detained immigrants are feeling a financial pinch as the federal government scales back enforcement of immigration laws.
The Douglas County Department of Corrections, which gets $84 per day to hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, is projecting a $2.9 million revenue shortfall for the next fiscal year. Most of the lost income can be attributed to the agency picking up fewer immigrants, Douglas County Corrections Director Mark Foxall told County Board members at a recent finance meeting.
Foxall said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are trying to aggressively put people out on electronic monitoring, and also have changed enforcement practices.
“They are just not detaining as many people,” he said. “With felonies, certainly they are, but the lower the grade of felonies, they’re just not detaining as many people.”
Foxall said jail colleagues across the country have similar stories to tell about the federal agency’s detention caps sapping local budgets.
Nationwide, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released more than 2,000 detainees in February to “other forms of supervision” in response to budget cuts related to federal sequestration, agency Director John Morton told a congressional committee last month.
Morton said 70 percent of those released had no previous criminal record. The remainder, he said, were misdemeanor offenders and a handful of higher-level criminals who “did not pose a violent threat to public safety.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to questions about detainees released in the Midlands.
Revenue from ICE detention is down two-thirds at Hall County Corrections in Grand Island, jail administrator Fred Ruiz said.
“The bottom has just fallen out of it completely,” he said.
The $63.01 a day that Hall County receives for ICE detainees accounts for about 80 percent of the jail’s revenue, according to figures from Ruiz.
“This almost happened overnight,” he said. “December was not a great month, but it was a halfway decent month. Then January rolled around and (ICE) decided not to do the work. ... We’re scrambling.”
It’s the same story in Phelps County, which gets $55 a day for ICE detainees, County Board Chairman Jim Ostgren said.
The county issued bonds to pay for the jail, and officials had seen revenue from inmate housing contracts as a prime moneymaker.
In light of the recent revenue problems, Ostgren said, the county was “really fortunate to get (the jail) done when we did.”
Officials hoped ICE funding “would be the biggest payment to pay back the bond,” he said. “It’s getting less and less all the time. ... You can’t depend completely on ICE.”
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