The Senate Task Force on Illegal Immigration Issues held a second meeting Wednesday, hearing presentations from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety and the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center.
Sen. Daisy Lawler, Chair of the Task Force, said information presented by the agencies further illustrated the scope of the illegal immigration problem and gave task force members a better understanding of how state corrections and law enforcement agencies deal with illegal immigrants under current laws.
“When we have to arrest and imprison illegal immigrants, our taxpayers are forced to bear the burden,” said Lawler, D-Comanche. “We learned today that the federal government must become more responsive and reimburse states for those costs through existing programs.”
K.C. Moon, Director of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Resource Center said the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) was established by the federal government to reimburse states and localities which have incurred costs for incarcerating illegal aliens. However, the program administered by the Bureau of Justice has faced funding cuts making it impossible for states and localities to be adequately reimbursed. In fiscal year 2003, Moon noted, the SCAAP program reimbursed states for only about 14 percent of criminal aliens the state had identified.
According to Paul Kirkpatrick of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 387 deportable detainees are currently imprisoned in Oklahoma facilities. The agency estimates Oklahoma spends nearly $7 million annually to detain illegal immigrants.
“The unwillingness of the federal government to adequately fund this program sends the wrong message,” Lawler said. “When we arrest and detain illegal immigrants, our state should be reimbursed and policy needs to be developed to ensure this problem doesn’t persist.”
Sen. Kenneth Corn, task force member, suggested that deporting illegal immigrants who have committed felony offenses could result in substantial savings to the state. Noting that state prisons are currently dealing with a lack of bed space and a budget shortfall, Corn said model legislation in Georgia has been effective in reducing prison congestion by adopting the policy.
Lawler said repeated attempts had been made to schedule a presentation from officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but all have been declined.
Lawler added the task force would likely meet again within the month, and the panel’s findings and recommendations must be submitted to the Senate President Pro Tempore by November 30, 2006.