Packed jail tied to illegal immigration
June 9, 2008
EAGLE Jesus Adrian Romero talks excitedly in the Eagle County jail with a handful of other inmates, many of whom entered the United States illegally. Romero and the other men in their 20s chatter in Spanish about what life is like in jail as Jairo Esparza, a fellow inmate, quickly translates. One has been accused of firing a shotgun at and wounding a man at the Dotsero volcano. Another man has been accused of biting off a mans ear. Romero said he failed to complete alcohol classes after he drove drunk. Jail isnt so bad and the foods OK, says Romero, an illegal immigrant from Sinaloa, a Mexican state whose coastline includes the Gulf of California. The only thing we need is cushions for these seats, Romero says, pointing toward the concrete stools where he and others sit when they watch television. As he stands in the most spacious cell block in the jail, Romero says it isnt too crowded. But Capt. Bill Kaufman, the jails administrator, and other county officials disagree. Thats why the county will spend a portion of an estimated $20 million for improvements to the Eagle County Justice Center to build a 40-bed, minimum-security addition on the west side of the current jail. Kaufman hopes construction will begin this fall. Several thousand dollars are spent each week housing and transporting inmates to other jails due to overcrowding, jail officials say. In one week in May, for example, the cost was $9,450, and taxpayers pay $45 per inmate each day to house the inmates in other jails, which is more expensive than housing them in the Eagle County jail, jail officials say. Inmates must pay for their own medical care if they enter jail with an illness or if they are injured in fights. But would the county need a new jail if illegal immigrants were not being held there? I think the answer is probably no, Kaufman said.
A jails inmate population generally is directly proportionate to the percentage of racial and ethnic groups in the surrounding community, Kaufman said.Illegal immigration in Eagle County is probably about a third, maybe a little bit more than a third, he said. I think thats what youre going to see here.Some illegal immigrants come from Eastern European countries, but most come from Mexico and Central and South America, Kaufman said. On Thursday, out of 91 inmates being held in jails under the auspices of Eagle County, 30 were illegal immigrants. Twenty-four inmates were being held in the Chaffee County jail, and 67 were being held in the Eagle County jail. The Eagle County jail has 62 beds for inmates so if no illegal immigrants were being held there or in other jails on Thursday, the jail would have had an extra bed. Kaufman said illegal immigrants account for about a third of inmates in the jail on any given day.The jail follows Colorado law by reporting to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement anyone who was born outside the country unless they were born on a military base, Kaufman said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decides whether to put a hold on the inmates, which is supposed to ensure illegal immigrants are deported after their cases go through the courts. Although bonds are set for inmates who are illegal immigrants, often people dont pay them and bondsmen balk because the money is lost if the inmate leaves the country. That means illegal immigrants usually stay in the jail longer, increasing the average stay in the jail for all inmates to three months, Kaufman estimates. Prisons are meant for long-term; jails should be quickly turned over, he said. When you start talking your average stay is three months, thats a long time, he added.
Romero spent $700 to get to the United States in the first place, he said. He wont have his bond paid to get out because if he did, Immigration and Customs Enforcement likely would deport him.Some inmates said they refuse to pay their bonds because they want to stay in jail instead of facing deportation. That buys them more time to see their families, who visit them in jail. Romero thinks he will be deported in a few weeks when his case is through. Then hell probably come back by entering the country illegally again because he thinks it costs too much to immigrate legally, he said.You have to have money in the bank, he said. Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.