Federal Judges Throw book at Americans: slap Illegal aliens with Soft Love:Early Release for Mexicans

Early release for immigrant inmates raises questions

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Early release for immigrant inmates raises questions

By Susan Ferriss
sferriss@sacbee.com

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Published: Monday, Jun. 8, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

Juan Pedro Panuco said he and other immigrant inmates at Folsom State Prison have heard that California is so cash-strapped, some of them could get sprung early and then deported.

“Some of them are excited,” said Panuco. He’s not.

At 36, he’s been in California since he was 18, is married to a legal U.S. resident and has three small children. He is nine months into a 13-month sentence he got for selling drugs.

Panuco may not want it, but the Mexican inmate is likely a prime candidate for early release under a cost-cutting plan on the table now from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, facing a $24.3 billion budget deficit.

How broadly the plan can be applied and how much it can really save is in question.

The governor’s Finance Department estimates $182 million in savings if the state were to release for deportation about 8,000 of the 19,000 identified undocumented prisoners.

But that projection appears overly optimistic: Finance and legislative officials say that only about 1,400 undocumented prisoners fit the profile of an inmate whose sentence can be commuted by the governor. And springing 1,400 inmates saves only about $32 million. That’s out of the $10 billion the state spends to house a total inmate population of about 168,000.

To be eligible for a commutation by the governor, an inmate must have just one felony conviction, for a crime that is not violent or sexual, and is not on a list of other disqualifying crimes.

Another 4,000 undocumented prisoners convicted of more than one nonviolent, nonsexual felony also could be eligible – but only if a majority of California Supreme Court justices agrees to it, officials said.

To get to 8,000 immigrant inmate releases, lawmakers would have to get into the mix, signing off on redefining some felonies as misdemeanors – a potentially steep political hurdle.

Schwarzenegger’s plan to commute their sentences would speed up what is already occurring: Illegal immigrants do their time and are turned over to federal authorities for deportation.

Some lawmakers already have started to question the wisdom of releasing immigrants early for deportation, given that some ultimately would return to California.

“We are compromising justice,” said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, when he heard details of the plan.

In 2007, California prisons turned over about 12,000 paroled inmates from various countries for deportation, but 1,600 later were discovered to have returned to California and committed parole violations.

California corrections officials said that starting this year, they will turn over these foreign ex-inmates to federal officials for prosecution rather than putting them back in the overcrowded state prisons.

Nielsen said federal prosecutors aren’t doing enough to put away returning criminal parolees on federal charges.

If foreign felons are going to get released early to save money, he said, he’d at least like to see an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that ensures the prisoners will be summarily deported.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state’s Finance Department, said the governor will not commute an inmate’s sentence unless deportation is guaranteed.

Ideally, Palmer said, ICE would hold hearings for candidates for release while they’re still in prison, an immigration court judge would sign an order, and the deportation of the inmate upon release from state custody would be guaranteed.

ICE already routinely holds immigration hearings in five of California’s state prisons.

In response to the governor’s proposal, ICE officials issued a brief statement: “It would be inappropriate to speculate about the governor’s future actions.”

For years, California has demanded – unsuccessfully – that the federal government reimburse the state for the costs of undocumented prisoners.

ICE offers states a prisoner-removal program that resembles what Schwarzenegger is proposing.

To date, New York, Arizona, Georgia, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico have signed up with ICE for the program, called Rapid REPAT – Removal of Eligible Parolees Accepted for Transfer.

The program allows nonviolent undocumented inmates to serve just half their sentences if they agree not to contest deportation.

If they are caught on U.S. soil again, they serve the rest of their sentences in the state prison they came out of, and then face up to 20 years in federal prison as criminals who re-entered illegally.

Earlier this year, Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, introduced a bill that urges the Legislature to join a version of the Rapid REPAT program.

AB 1208 hasn’t moved forward, though. California legislators have long been reluctant to buck demands from local district attorneys that inmates, including the undocumented, serve their time.

A federal treaty allows states to send foreign prisoners back to home countries to do time, but California lawmakers have not wanted to participate except on rare occasions.

Panuco, who will face deportation in September or perhaps sooner, if the governor’s plan goes through, is weighing what lies ahead.

“I always worked, every day, but I wanted to earn a little extra money,” the former construction worker said, hanging his head.

At a friend’s urging, he said, he sold methamphetamine, just for a couple of months. It turned out he was selling it to an undercover police officer.

“I made a big mistake,” he said. “I have to pay for it.”

He’ll try to earn money in Mexico to send to his children and his wife, who is angry and isn’t about to follow him to Mexico, he said.

But he isn’t confident he’ll find a job that will pay very much.

He said he might take a chance and come back.

“I just can’t leave everything behind,” he said. “There are kids involved.”

Juan Pedro Panuco said he and other immigrant inmates at Folsom State Prison have heard that California is so cash-strapped, some of them could get sprung early and then deported. “Some of them are excited,” said Panuco. He’s not. At 36, he’s been in California since he was 18, is married to a legal U.S. resident and has three small children. He is nine months into a 13-month sentence he got for selling drugs.
08 Jun 2009 @ 04:11 am
5 comments
From Heartwood – 08 Jun 2009 @ 03:14 pm
Finally someone said it. Read the whole article and a state official says that the FEDs arn’t doing enough to prosicute returning illegal immigrants. All these folks return. Nobody stays in the country of origin. It’s a federal felony to return after deportation even if you haven’t committed some other crime; manditory prison time, but somehow the FEDs can turn it into a twentyfifth deportation with no prison. There’s a whole different set of rules that federal judges apply to illegal aliens than to citizens. They throw the book at us and slap them with soft love.
From Gorilla – 08 Jun 2009 @ 06:10 am
In Reply to cudzuqueen: American citizens struggle, while our state and federal governments provide benefits for millions of “Illegal Immigrants.”
From Anonyma – 08 Jun 2009 @ 05:49 am
And they won’t stay in California — this is a gift from Ca. to the rest of the nation. Their criminals will be striking out to search for a “better life” just as Californians are doing now — a life outside Ca.’s borders.
From tiredofit – 08 Jun 2009 @ 05:34 am
In Reply to cudzuqueen:

you hit the nail on the head CQ….

From cudzuqueen – 08 Jun 2009 @ 05:26 am
He said he might take a chance and come back.

“I just can’t leave everything behind,” he said. “There are kids involved.”

Of course he’ll return…because he can live off the kids’ entitlements while he returns to his drug selling trade. The only thing he’s sorry about, is that he was caught

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