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Migrant Nation

Perry’s immigration ‘emergency’ speeds Texas toward sea of red ink

One provision of SB9 would allow any citizen to file a complaint against an agency if they believe immigration enforcement is being discouraged or prohibited, opening cities to legal challenges and the prospect of losing state grant money if ruled incompliant, Bernal said. “It’s a prohibition on a prohibition. … What’s interesting is, in some ways, the only way to keep yourself from running afoul of this legislation is to require your officers to ask for immigration status, and then we’re Arizona,” said Bernal, a former attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Throughout the debate over SB9, police chiefs and sheriffs have openly worried the measure could spark an uptick in arrests as immigration enforcement becomes a part of the job description, costing an untold millions of dollars in immigrant detention and officer training each year. When speaking out against a similar sanctuary cities bill earlier this year, Sheriff Ortiz remarked, “We’re afraid we’d see more people coming through the jail, and we deal with overcrowding here as it is.”

In March, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Perry’s office requested a survey of all Texas counties participating in the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, through which county jails are reimbursed by the feds for jailing undocumented immigrants held on local charges, ranging from minor misdemeanors to felonies, and that reimbursement already falls woefully short, according to records released to the Current in an open-records request.

In fiscal year 2009, Bexar County jail officials reported spending nearly $700,000 detaining 550 undocumented immigrants. The federal government reimbursed the county just over $200,000, leaving a nearly half-million-dollar gap, records show. Using the state’s average per-day cost for incarceration, Texas as a whole lost over $55 million housing “criminal aliens and suspected criminal aliens using [U.S. Department of Justice] data,” the survey noted. The cost, the commission said, is likely higher, given that only 106 counties participate in the federal program. •

Staff Writer Michael Barajas’ column Migrant Nation appears monthly in the Current.

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