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Detaining immigrants is big business for some Oklahoma counties

The detention of illegal immigrants brings in millions of dollars for counties in the state. Jobs, jails and upkeep are funded by dollars generated through federal contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
BY VALLERY BROWN Published: August 29, 2010

It meant about $23,000 a year to the county had evaporated.

The department has an annual budget of about $400,000 a year with 10 full-time employees and four deputies assigned to transport immigration detainees.

"We started talking about layoffs in February," Brooks said. "The hardest thing was doing it. I promised them — as soon as everything changed I'd hire them back."

Four months later, the contract was renewed. Brooks hired back one man to work in the jail and two to transport detainees. The agreement with federal immigration officials also pays the department to pick up detainees from other jails and drive them to federal sites, primarily Tulsa County and a processing center in Oklahoma City.

"This contract stimulates our budget and gives jobs to the community," Brooks said. "We don't use county funds to do federal business, but the money brings something here."

Something more, he said, than just taking away illegal immigrants.

"We're not going to get rich doing this, but we're not going to go broke," he said. "It makes things better for the citizens of Garvin County."

Brooks said he's often confronted by those who don't believe the program is humane. The irony of the job also isn't lost on him: if all the illegal immigrants were gone or no longer illegal, his budget and his roster would shrink again.

"I guess we'd have to figure something else out," Brooks said. "Right now, we're upholding the law."

On a given day, Brooks holds about 20 immigration detainees in his 72-bed jail.

Jefferson County

"We went from a good size to nothing at all," said Jefferson County jail Administrator Ron Weatherly. Things changed when an agreement with federal immigration officials ended.

From 1998 until 2003, Jefferson County officials contracted with federal immigration authorities to house immigrants awaiting deportation. They were housed in the 120-bed facility built by the county to bring jobs and funds through federal contracts.

On a summer afternoon in 2003, buses rolled down Main Street in Waurika, loaded 72 illegal immigrants and drove out of town.

After years of questions about the sheriff's department budget and how the annex was being run, federal officials abruptly ended the contract.

A federal spokeswoman at the time said the site no longer fit the agency's needs.

When the jail closed, the community of nearly 2,000 people lost about 40 jobs and the economic impact of $2.5 million generated by the jail.

The jail sits empty to this day.

"I saw people in my store that I don't see anymore," said local grocery store owner Stanley Good. "Those jobs are gone, those people are gone. It's been hard."

Good said he made some money selling meat and bread to the jail. That also went away.

"When you take jobs away from a small farming community like this, it's tough to rebound," he said. "And more and more places like this are drying up."

Weatherly said without the jail, the sheriff's department budget is only enough to pay the salaries of two full-time employees.

In the case of Jefferson County, the nearly five-year boom was a mirage.

"There's always a prevailing wisdom," he said. "All I know is what we had couldn't last."


$54.13: Amount Tulsa County makes per day per federal immigration detainee.

$27: Amount paid per inmate by the state Corrections Department.

$43.50: Amount Garvin County makes per day per federal immigration detainee.

$27: Amount Garvin County Sheriff's Department is paid per prisoner for county inmates.


Corrections Corporation of America, a Tennessee-based private prison company, has offered three jails to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the detention of illegal immigrant criminals awaiting deportation. More than 2,000 Oklahoma inmates are currently held at those jails. State officials say the move is likely financially motivated since federal contracts pay more per prisoner than the state.


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