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California prisons won't hold some illegal immigrant offenders

March 2, 2009 |  3:57 pm

California corrections officials have told the federal government that they will no longer lock up undocumented immigrants on parole violations who enter the country illegally after being deported, a practice that costs the state an estimated $10 million a year.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday and in a news conference today, California corrections chief Matt Cate said the federal government should prosecute undocumented immigrants who return to the country after deportation because that is a crime under federal law.

The stance refers to immigrants  who had committed crimes in California and finished serving their terms.

In the past, the state has kept them on parole after deportation and incarcerated them for four to eight months when they were caught in the country illegally. But California is facing an order from a panel of federal judges to reduce the population in its overcrowded prisons.

Now, when such immigrants are released from prison and given to federal authorities for deportation, they will automatically be discharged from parole.

“Those short prison stints are not punishment enough for these repeat offenders, yet they cost California millions every year to recycle them through our parole process, exacerbating the crowded positions in our prisons,” Cate, secretary of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in his letter to Napolitano. “California can no longer afford this practice.”

Out of 12,000 undocumented immigrants released to federal authorities for deportation in 2007, nearly 1,600 returned illegally and were sent to prison, which cost the state up to $10million a year, corrections officials said.

--Michael Rothfeld