A year-old state law is saving Oklahomans millions of dollars by deporting illegal immigrant criminals back to their home countries.
Oklahoma is one of about five states using similar methods to ease inmate overcrowding in prison systems, federal immigration officials say.
"It's working," said Jerry Massie, state Corrections Department spokesman. "They're not in the system and taking up bed space anymore."
Bed space is valuable in a system that has nearly 1,300 inmates waiting to enter it from county jails.
Of the approximately 25,000 inmates in state Department of Corrections custody, about 560 are suspected to be in the country illegally. About 385 of those are eligible for transfer and deportation based on their crimes.
But corrections officials admit some deportees are likely to break their agreements and come back.
"If they've got a lot of family ties here, the likelihood of them trying to slip back in and be with their families increases," Massie said.
One who returned
Border agents arrested 27-year-old Sanchez Leborio less than three weeks after he was deported to Mexico from Oklahoma in October. Leborio had returned over the southern U.S. border and was picked up in Yuma, Ariz.
He's one of eight known to have returned to the U.S. of the 185 individuals deported in the year since the Oklahoma Criminal Illegal Alien Rapid Repatriation Act went into effect.
All of the returnees face federal penalties. After that time is served, state law requires offenders be returned here to complete the remainder of the Oklahoma sentence they were serving at the time of their deportation.
Leborio, who was incarcerated in Oklahoma under the name Ricardo Sanchez Rosales, is in custody less than a mile from the Mexico border. He's charged with the federal crime of illegal entry after removal and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Afterward, Leborio must serve the remainder of his 13-year sentence in Oklahoma for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
Most individuals deported under the state's rapid repatriation program had been convicted of drug and alcohol offenses.
There are 136 inmates awaiting pickup and removal by federal officials.
Eligible inmates must have served a third of their sentence and have a deportation order issued by a federal immigration judge.
They cannot be serving time for violent crimes, such as murder and first-degree rape, which require 85 percent of their sentence be served.
"If they're nonviolent, this is a great program that can get criminals out of the state and into federal custody," said Douglas Stump, an Oklahoma City immigration attorney and second vice president for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Violent criminals who plead to a lesser charge could be eligible for deportation under the law.
Criminals who were previously convicted of violent crimes but served those sentences could be as well.
Pedro Tavares, 51, who was serving time on a drug conviction but had previously served his sentence on a second-degree murder conviction, was deported last year and arrested two months later near Laredo, Texas.
Miguel Pu, 22, was serving time for rape by instrumentation, not considered a violent crime, when he was deported to Guatemala last year and arrested five months later in Arizona.
The Oklahoma Criminal Alien Rapid Repatriation Act
The Oklahoma Criminal Alien Rapid Repatriation Act was introduced by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, in 2009. Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, was the primary author in the Senate.
Much of the law mirrors language written by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for the federal rapid repatriation program. A federal version of the program began in 2007 and five states have agreements with federal immigration officials to identify and repatriate incarcerated criminals.
Oklahoma's program is a state-run program and not a part of the federal rapid repatriation program.
SOURCE: OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE AND U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT
Incarceration of illegal immigrants
$19,798: Average annual prison cost per offender.
$1,634: Average annual amount paid per offender by the federal government to help offset the cost of illegal immigrant inmates.
$3.36 million: Approximate amount saved during first year of repatriation act.
$462 million: State Corrections Department fiscal year 2010 budget.
SOURCE: STATE CRIMINAL ALIEN ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FUNDS, OKLAHOMA CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT