Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
With those poetic words inscribed on her base, the Mother Of Exiles – known worldwide as the Statue of Liberty – beckons the “wretched refuse” of some distant teeming shore to join a nation of immigrants.
Now, as counties across Oklahoma reel from the Department of Corrections’ budget-driven move to downsize state inmate populations housed at local jails, someone new is crying “Give me your huddled masses.”
A Rogers County jail official has suggested his jail could help bridge a potential budget shortfall by soliciting prisoners from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The suggestion, tendered at a May 1, 2014 meeting of the Rogers County Criminal Justice Authority, raises some interesting questions:
- Could relocation of ICE inmates from Tulsa into county jails around the state reduce overcrowding at Tulsa’s David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center?
- Would Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz endorse an idea that could potentially cost his facility hundreds of thousands of dollars in ICE revenue?
- Could ICE payments to more local jails throughout Oklahoma create a financial incentive for ethnic profiling?
Let’s do the math…
Tulsa County gets $54.13 a day for ICE inmates. At present, Tulsa’s jail is one of two local jails statewide routinely paid to house ICE inmates beyond the 48 hours allowed in ICE detainer requests.
Wirth Law Office recently started counting ICE inmates at Tulsa County jail. The numbers are large.
Tulsa County Jail is a Federal Detention Center
Wirth Law Office’s analysis has repeatedly counted more than 100 inmates detained in Tulsa County jail on ICE holds beyond the 48 weekday hours that local jails may voluntarily hold inmates at ICE request.
If the Tulsa jail is paid to house 100 ICE inmates a day, 365 days a year, that means about $2 million in annual ICE revenue.
County taxpayers otherwise contributed $28.2 million to jail operating costs by way of sales taxes in 2013, according to Tulsa County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2013.
We know as well as anybody, year-end financial reports provide a low-resolution picture of public agency expenses. Our estimate of the Tulsa jail’s potential ICE revenue is likewise imprecise.
Nonetheless, those two sources suggest federal payments for immigration detainees may comprise about 7 percent of the Tulsa jail’s annual operating revenue.
Rogers County Detention Chief Deputy Shane Rhames told the Rogers County Criminal Justice Authority their jail could house three or four federal inmates “unless there is a major movement of prisoners,” according to the Claremore Daily Progress.
Four ICE inmates in rented jail cells every day of the year would generate about $80,000 annually for Rogers County jail.
That’s slightly more than 10 percent of the money Rogers County brings in for housing state prisoners. Rogers County gets about $700,000 a year for housing DOC inmates – mostly for penitentiary bound inmates awaiting transfer to a state facility.
It seems it would take a large number of ICE inmates to replace Rogers County jail’s DOC income.
But there is a catch. ICE pays twice as much as the DOC to rent local jail cells.
A Major Movement of Prisoners in Oklahoma
Local jails around the state recently took notice when the Oklahoma Department of Corrections began a major movement of prisoners.
Looking to reduce costs, state prison officials began more quickly moving penitentiary bound inmates out of local jails. And like the one in Rogers County, many local jails in Oklahoma depend on those state DOC payments to support jail operations.
For local jails anticipating the loss of $27 daily payments for state DOC inmates, the $54 daily ICE pays local jails to house inmates could loom large as a potential source of revenue. It’s a safe bet that Rogers County might not be the only jurisdiction to cast a hungry eye toward those federal funds.
From the perspective of an inmate facing potential deportation proceedings, a move from crowded Tulsa County jail to a random rural jail anywhere in Oklahoma might or might not be an improvement.
For someone not currently in jail who might look to local cops like a potentially suspect immigrant, there could be a darker downside.
An Incentive for Ethnic Profiling?
One result of more local jails relying on ICE money could be that local police agencies in Oklahoma would have financial incentives to enforce federal immigration laws. That could encourage agencies to target particular ethnic groups for more intensive law enforcement.
If other county jails contracted with ICE as Tulsa County does, sheriffs across Oklahoma could have a financial incentive to target suspected immigrants for traffic violations or other low-level offenses.
Those they bring into the local jail and who turn out to be immigration suspects would be worth an extra $54 a day.
Oklahoma law already requires local jailers to ask immigration questions if they suspect an inmate might be an unauthorized immigration. Once in jail, local authorities could ask immigration questions under Oklahoma’s HB 1804. Local cops could then solicit ICE to pay their county for detaining inmates identified as immigration suspects.
A person booked on a speeding violation who turns out to be an immigration suspect might be held seven days before ICE lets them out on bond. That could be a $378 windfall for the local jail. A person booked on a DUI charge and then held without bond for 30 days at ICE expense could generate $1,670 for the local jail.
The potential revenue could be enough of an incentive for sheriffs’ watch commanders to brief deputies to focus their daily traffic enforcement on individuals they think might be immigration suspects. For county deputies, that could add up to daily briefings in ethnic profiling.
While the idea of spreading immigration inmates around local jails might make sense for budgetary reasons, and to reduce crowding in the Tulsa jail, the results could include new ethnic profiling practices among county law enforcement in Oklahoma.
Like any other form of ethnic profiling, the practice would impact more people than those few suspected of major crimes. Profiling makes all members of a profiled group more likely than anyone else to be detained by police or to receive traffic citations.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Immigration Attorney
If someone you know is held in an Oklahoma jail facing immigration proceedings, contact an Oklahoma immigration attorney immediately. Our immigration attorney speaks Spanish and has experience in both immigration and criminal defense.