Hundreds of illegal immigrants stayed in the Oklahoma County jail nearly twice as long as the national average before being removed in 2008 because of problems. This is according to a recent report released by the Syracuse University project, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. "It’s a pretty good revenue enhancer if there are extra cells,” said Stan Inman, former District 3 county commissioner. The federal government pays more to the jail than the state or city to house its prisoners. Mark Myers, spokesman for Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, said money had nothing to do with why they were there so long. "When someone commits a crime, the system is in place for them to be dealt with in the courts. Then the federal government determines what happens,” he said. But Whetsel implemented a hiring freeze shortly after the removal of the prisoners, citing a potential loss of as much as $3.2 million a year in lost revenue. At the time, the county was being reimbursed $42.33 per day by the federal government for each federal prisoner. This compares to about $30 per inmate held for the Oklahoma Corrections Department and $40.66 for those held for Oklahoma City. Inman said the federal immigration system is rife with problems and is notoriously slow in how it deals with jails. But reimbursement money received from the federal government went into the sheriff’s special revenue-cash funds while the county paid for daily expenses. "I’m not saying he profited by it, but it could give him surplus revenue,” Inman said. "It’s alarming that the length of detention is significantly higher,” said T. Douglas Stump, an immigration attorney with more than 25 years of experience working in immigration law. Stump said he frequently encounters detained immigrants who have been misled about where they are in the process of dealing with immigration officials. He said this can affect the person’s length of stay in the jail. Stump wouldn’t speculate on blame for the longer detentions at the county jail. In the 12 months leading up to the August 2008 removal of 160 federal inmates from the Oklahoma County jail, about 2,000 immigration detainees went through the jail. Oklahoma County lost its status with immigration officials due to civil rights abuses and deplorable conditions there, according to a federal Justice Department report. Myers said jail officials had nothing to do with the detention length cited in the report. He said the jail has been operating without federal inmates and has made do without those reimbursements. "But we’re at a point now that one of the things we have to do is come up with more funding to run the jail,” he said. Carl Rusnok, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said there are many factors that determine a detainee’s length of stay, including immigration court backlogs, communication between jail and immigration officials and drawn out legal matters. "It’s not all dependent on what happens at ICE,” Rusnok said.
Tulsa has federal dealThe Tulsa County sheriff’s department began contracting with the federal government to house immigration detainees in 2007. The department is one of 63 jails in the country, and the only one in Oklahoma, that has an agreement with federal immigration officials. Sgt. Shannon Clark, public information officer for the Tulsa County sheriff’s department, also supervises the immigration enforcement program there. He said nearly 3,800 detainees were processed in 2009. Under the jail’s agreement with immigration officials, they are reimbursed $54.13 per federal detainee held there each day. Data contained in the report on Oklahoma County is not yet available for the Tulsa County jail. Clark said noncriminal offenders leave the jail in a few days and some complicated immigration cases can go on for years. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse group studied millions of federal immigration records tracking immigration detainees dating back from 1998 through 2009.
When an illegal immigrant is taken into custody there are several ways to proceed:
• If a person from Mexico or Canada is detained for their immigration status and has no criminal background, they can voluntarily return to their home country at the expense of the federal government. This typically happens within a matter of days.
• When a detainee has a criminal background and the federal government determines it is going to remove the detainee, the government begins paperwork for deportation, the official removal of someone from the country for either criminal or immigration reasons. Detained people from non-neighboring countries must apply for travel documents through that country’s government. Every country is different on response times.
• Other situations can occur where federal government officials allow detainees to leave on their own recognizance.
• The length of time people are detained for immigration status often comes down to whether the detainees choose to voluntarily return to their country or contest their immigration status. Complicated immigration court cases can take as long as three years.
• Those determined by immigration officials not to be a flight risk can be allowed to post bail. Immigration officials in the state can make this decision. Few people use this avenue, primarily because of a lack of financial resources. SOURCE: TULSA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SGT. SHANNON CLARK
Report: For more information on the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report, visit trac.syr.edu.