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Study: Illegal immigration costing border counties millions
Cost to Yuma may total $49.2 million since 1999
PHOENIX — Illegal immigration may have cost Yuma County legal services $49.2 million since 1999, according to a study released Wednesday.
The study examined costs of law enforcement and criminal prosecutions of illegal immigration in 24 counties on the U.S.-Mexico border.
It says the battle over illegal immigration is also diverting millions of dollars from parks, libraries and other law-enforcement efforts.
In the four border counties in Arizona, costs increased 39 percent, from $19.2 million in fiscal 1999 to $26.6 million in fiscal 2006, according to researchers at the University of Arizona and San Diego State University.
The study commissioned by the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition, a nonprofit group of border-county officials, shows that for the nation’s 24 border counties in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, the costs related to illegal immigration in fiscal 2006 were $192 million, more than double the costs in 1999.
In Yuma alone, the cost has increased from $4.2 million in 1999 to almost $7.7 million in 2006. This factors out to a $41 cost per capita to each man, woman and child in the county in 2006. The vast majority of this money, more than $5 million locally, goes to detention for undocumented individuals. All undocumented persons, whether they were in jail for misdemeanors such as driving under the influence or more serious offenses, were counted.
The coalition estimates the county has spent a cumulative $49.2 million since 1999, assuming cost increases have been consistent.
Greg Ferguson, chairman of the Yuma County Board of Supervisors, said they continually lobby to get the federal government to reimburse some of these costs. But anything they get back falls short of what the county spends.
"We have to provide the services. We have to put people in jail. We have to provide prosecution and legal defense," Ferguson said. "That's what we continually try to bring back to our senators and congressman in Washington to pay for what they should be paying for."
The coalition says Congress should spend more federal dollars on the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which gave border counties a total of $4.7 million in reimbursements last year.
"The study is important because, for the most part, these border counties are small, they're rural, they’re very poor, and this is a tremendous hit to their county budgets," said Tanis Salant, a public-policy lecturer at UA and the study’s main author.
Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith works to recover more of that money from the federal government using the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative. He said they're able to recover about 50-55 percent of what they request for the costs of prosecuting illegal immigrants. That money goes back into the general fund but it still does not approach paying all costs.
"That number is meant to reimburse the county overall for the cost of handling that particular matter," Smith said.
The coalition began looking at the impact of illegal immigration on border counties in 1999. It paid for the study using a Justice Department grant.
It estimated the costs of illegal immigration on county law enforcement borderwide at $1.2 billion in the past eight fiscal years, researchers said.
Researchers examined county budgets, court records and crime statistics and interviewed hundreds of county officials for the report. The report did not look at the impact of illegal immigrants on cities, states or Indian tribes.
Ferguson said that since immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress last year, he is not optimistic about seeing increased relief any time soon. He said he hoped it would be revived after the presidential election but saw little chance of it until then.
"People back east don't get it. You can see it on TV," he said. "From what I've heard, the chances of getting anything through Congress on immigration is next to nil."
Sun staff writer Sarah Reynolds contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6847.
BY THE NUMBERS, A DEPT. BREAKDOWN
According to the U.S./Mexico Border Counties Coalition, Yuma County spent $7,689,505 on law enforcement and criminal prosecutions involving illegal immigrants in 2006.
• Sheriff: $979,379
• Detention: $5,031,764
• County Attorney: $295,823
• Clerk of Superior Court: $151,781
• Superior Court: $435,252
• Indigent Defense: $582,846
• Justice Court/Constable: $65,930
• Adult Probation: $105,420
• Juvenile Services: $41,310