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Commentary: California's Undocumented Inmates Belong In Federal Prisons

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, May 26, 2011
by Bruce Maiman
The Supreme Court's ruling doesn't mean California will open a door and 30- or 40,000 inmates will come pouring out; the process will happen over at least two years.

Opponents cried that releasing so many inmates would threaten public safety. But the Court was duty-bound to uphold the Constitution, which makes clear that you cannot house people in inhumane conditions and without fundamental medical care.

It's been an open secret in California for 20 years that the medical care in state prisons has been deplorable, which is why a federal court judge placed the state correctional medical care system under the court's supervision in the first place.

Needless to say, at a time when the state's economic circumstances are dire, this irritates many California taxpayers. The federal courts are telling us we have to spend X amount of money to provide medical care while we can't find the money to run the schools, pay for cops, care for the elderly, or maintain our roads, bridges and levees.

But there's another option: the 19,000 state prison inmates who are in this country illegally. If the federal government insists that states cannot arbitrate or legislate on matters of immigration because immigration is a federal prerogative, fine - let them do it. We've got 19,000 federal prerogatives they can take off our hands. They keep telling us not to meddle in their territory, yet they're an absentee landlord. So either they take custody of these individuals, or they pay the state the freight it's costing Californians to do it for them.

We spent nearly a billion dollars on undocumented inmates in the last fiscal year while receiving only $96 million in federal assistance.

That's a bad deal on top of a bad idea.

If it were up to me, I'd notify federal immigration authorities that 30 days hence, the governor will sign an executive order to start releasing illegal immigrants in our state prisons into the custody of the federal government. I'd Con-Airlift them, once a week, to the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., until someone at the federal level finally took responsibility for what is legally their criminal jurisdiction.

Maybe if they did their jobs, it'd be a lot easier for us to do ours.

0414 Maiman
Bruce Maiman is a former radio talk show host who lives in Rocklin.
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