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Op-Ed: We Shouldn't Give Illegal Immigrants A Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card


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Op-Ed: We Shouldn't Give Illegal Immigrants A Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

Let's call Rapid REPAT what it really is: Rapid REPEAT.

Rapid REPAT is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that allows states to release illegal-immigrant felons into ICE's custody for deportation before they complete their prison sentences.

It's a get-out-of-jail-free card only available to illegal immigrants, giving them a reward for entering the country illegally plus committing a felony that lands them in prison.

States from Rhode Island to Arizona have joined this penny-wise, pound-foolish solution to prison overcrowding. California is the latest—and largest state—to consider taking the dive.

Two weeks ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced plans to use his constitutional authority to unilaterally commute the sentences of up to 8,500 illegal-immigrant felons and place them in the REPAT program. The only felons who will not be considered are those who committed a violent or sex offense. All others—drug dealers, thieves, drunken drivers, extortionists—are eligible.

The felons will be turned over to ICE with no parole restrictions—in effect being treated better than American citizens who commit felonies.

There also is no guarantee of deportation. ICE puts a priority on detaining serious and violent felons—not the ones whose sentences will be commuted. While some will be formally deported and put on a plane for home immediately, many will just be given a notice to appear, then will disappear.

Deportation also doesn't guarantee they won't return to the United States. In 2008, about 1,600—or 1 of every 7—criminal illegal immigrants deported from California were caught committing a crime in California within the next year—Rapid REPEAT.

There is little incentive for criminal illegal immigrants not to re-enter the United States. Because of limited resources, U.S. Attorney's Offices only prosecute a fraction of re-entry cases.

And even if they are caught and prosecuted, under the REPAT program 20 years will be added to their sentence—which means even more prison overcrowding. Will we then give these repeat offenders another get-out-of-jail-free card? Probably.

Rapid REPAT, of course, is only part of the shortsighted trend in prison-reduction programs. People who commit crimes are convicted and sentenced in our courts to a term commensurate with their crimes. Shortening their sentences to ease overcrowding sends them the message that if they do the crime they do not have to do the time.

Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten, a California District Attorneys Association board member, has taken a lead in fighting these empty-the-jails proposals, traveling to Sacramento last week to make sure law enforcement's concerns are known to state legislators and reminding them that letting criminals off easy has severe consequences.

Even California Attorney General Jerry Brown, not known for his conservative positions, has noted that the prison system already releases about 10,000 prisoners every month but with a 70 percent recidivism rate—one of the highest in the nation—they keep coming back.

Illegal-immigrant felons will, too. California is home to about 25 percent of the nation's illegal population, making it a magnet for other illegal immigrants. California makes it attractive for illegal immigrants to settle in and, with lax enforcement of illegal immigration laws at the federal level, there is little fear of being caught.

There is a cost to incarcerate criminals. But the cost to society by releasing them early is higher. More victims, more crimes, repeat trials and incarcerations cost society far more than keeping criminals locked up.

For the illegal-immigrant population, this is yet another sign that it pays to be illegal. California, a 2007 nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office report noted, incurs the highest costs from illegal immigration, ranging in the “tens of billions of dollars.” Moreover, the report stated: “The tax revenues that unauthorized immigrants generate for state and local governments do not offset the total cost of services provided to those immigrants.”

We give illegal immigrants reduced and often free higher education not available to citizens, a job, a home, a mortgage, free healthcare at any emergency room and, if they commit a crime, we let them go.

To reduce illegal immigration we must be tougher, not weaker. Criminals exploit weakness. They will exploit Rapid REPEAT.

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