RI, federal agency in deal on immigrant prisoners

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s prison system has entered into an agreement with U.S. immigration authorities that allows for the early release of illegal immigrants imprisoned for nonviolent offenses if they agree to be deported, Gov. Don Carcieri said Tuesday.

Under the deal between the state Department of Corrections and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, nonviolent inmates in the state prison could be released early if they have been ordered to leave the U.S. and agree not to return. Ex-prisoners caught re-entering the U.S. could be forced to serve the remainder of their state prison sentences and face new federal charges carrying additional 20-year sentences.

“Rhode Island cannot afford to repeatedly bear the financial burden of providing housing and rehabilitative treatment to inmates who committed crimes while here illegally,” Carcieri said in a written statement.

The deal is part of a federal program called Rapid Removal of Eligible Parolees Accepted for Transfer, or Rapid REPAT. U.S. immigration authorities signed the first Rapid REPAT deal with Puerto Rico in July. It is modeled off similar deportation systems in Arizona and New York.

The Rhode Island deal was signed on Aug. 20. Carcieri spokeswoman Amy Kempe said the governor waited nearly three weeks to announce the policy change so officials could finalize a news release.

Immigration authorities already detain and deport illegal immigrants as they are released from the state prison system. The new effort would accelerate the process by finding inmates who agree not to fight deportation in exchange for their freedom, said Bruce Chadbourne, an ICE field office director for detention and removal operations in Boston.

An estimated 60 of the 522 inmates that Rhode Island turned over to U.S. immigration officials last year would have been eligible for the new program, Chadbourne said.

State prison officials have not calculated how much they might save through the program, said Patricia Coyne-Fague, chief legal counsel for the Department of Corrections.

Chadbourne said the system could be operating in about a month.

The agreement is among the less controversial elements of a crackdown Carcieri launched on the estimated 20,000 to 40,000 illegal immigrants in Rhode Island in March, when he signed an executive order that requires state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for potential deportation. State police have yet to reach an agreement with federal immigration officials laying out how they would work together.

Carcieri’s order also forces state agencies and private companies doing business with the state to electronically verify the immigration status of new hires.

The order has drawn criticism from the state’s Roman Catholic bishop, a lawsuit from the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and resignations from most members of the governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs.




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