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Analysis: Immigrants take big bite of US Marshals’ custody resources

Nearly half of the U.S. Marshals Service’s prisoner spending takes place along the U.S.- Mexico border.

Last fiscal year, the Marshals Service spent $1.37 billion to house, transport, and provide medical services to arrestees awaiting trial, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study. More than $572 million of that – nearly 42 percent – was spent in just five districts along the Mexican border in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and South and West Texas, an AMI analysis of data from the GAO study showed.

Critics of the U.S. immigration and border policy said the failure to stop illegal immigration is unnecessarily costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The prisoner costs of the U.S. Marshals Service clearly demonstrate the role that illegal immigration plays in crime and violence levels in the United States,” Phil Novack, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, wrote in an emailed statement to American Media Institute. “It is not a coincidence that, according to recent findings by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Marshals Service’s prisoner costs are the highest in states both along the border and with large populations of illegal aliens. The solution to the U.S. Marshals Service’s prison-related costs is not to increase the Department of Justice’s budget, but to end the flow of illegal aliens into the United States, enforce our immigration laws, and actually secure our border with Mexico.”

“Obviously, if you don’t control the borders, you have to deal with problems resulting from criminal aliens coming here,” said Ira Mehlman, media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

While not specifically looking at illegal immigration, the GAO found Marshals Service prisoner costs needed more scrutiny. Diana Maurer, director of the GAO’s Homeland Security and Justice team, said the report’s goal was to prompt the Marshals Service to find effective cost-cutting measures, but it’s clear from the data that illegal immigration is a significant cost for prisoner housing, transport and medical care.

“There are more border-related crimes – including immigration violations, smuggling and drugs – in places like Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico,” she said, adding that there are fewer such problems at the Canadian border because there is substantially less illegal immigration from the north.

The Marshals Service doesn’t run its own detention centers, instead paying to house prisoners awaiting trial in state, local and private facilities.

Marshals’ spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue declined to comment on the GAO report or the data showing that Mexican border areas have the highest prisoner expenditures. “The Marshals Service must respond to Congress on the recommendations in the GAO audit, and intends to in the near future,” Donahue wrote in an email exchange. “At this time, it would be inappropriate to respond to the news media first. Further, the GAO audit does not address immigration policy, so USMS will not make any statements on that subject.”

The Marshal’s service sent a written response to the GAO report July 13 to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but department spokesman Dave Oney wrote he didn’t have a copy of the letter and the committee staff did not respond to a request for a copy of the Marshal Service’s statement late Friday.

But Marshals Service statistics, obtained after a Freedom of Information Act request, show that crimes stemming from illegal immigration are a vast majority of charged offenses in the border regions.

In those border districts, four crimes – illegal entry, false citizenship, smuggling aliens and general immigration violations – amounted to 69 percent of all violations over the past five years, an AMI analysis of the data shows. In West Texas, for example, immigration-related charges made up more than 75 percent of the total in each year between 2012 and 2015, while in Southern California those offenses averaged 41 percent of all the charges since 2011.

Overall, a 2013 FAIR study estimated that illegal immigration costs taxpayers more than $113 billion a year, with about $29 billion coming from the federal government and the rest picked up by states and municipalities. Partly offsetting those costs, the study determined that about $9.4 billion a year is collected from undocumented workers in federal taxes and about $3.9 billion in state and local taxes.

Representatives of National Council of La Raza and the American Immigration Council would not comment for this story.

The GAO study, while not focusing specifically on immigration, tagged the Marshals Service for failing to verify that its cost-saving measures on prisoner housing were effective.

“By developing reliable methods for estimating costs and validating savings, USMS would be better positioned to assess the effectiveness of its cost savings efforts,” the report said.

Maurer said the Marshals Service also needs to do a better job negotiating rates with private and government facilities that hold federal inmates.

“We want them to remain focused on those regions that they’re getting the best value for the money from the average daily per prisoner rate,” she said. “We want to make sure they’re negotiating the best rate and exploring different options to maximize cost savings.”

Mehlman said if the United States would consistently punish employers who hire illegal workers, end sanctuary cities and cut off all non-emergency benefits to undocumented residents, the illicit border crossings would slow or stop dramatically.

“Illegal immigration has an extreme impact on American society and the burdens and costs are enormous,” he said. “We need to send a clear message that people won’t be rewarded for coming here.”

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