- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If the U.S. Supreme Court says California has to create room in its prisons by releasing convicts, the least the federal government can do is send those who are illegal aliens back over the border. The message is simple: If you come to our country and don’t follow the rules, you’re outta here.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of “Brown v. Plata” that overcrowding in California prisons constituted a violation of the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court affirmed the judgment of a three-judge federal court that ordered the Golden State to release up to 46,000 of the state’s 140,000 inmates. The 5-4 decision was strongly contested, with dissenting Justice Samuel A. Alito warning, “The majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California.”

The state could mitigate the public danger posed by released prisoners with a little help from the feds. An estimated 19,000 of California’s convicts are illegal aliens, who cost the state approximately a billion dollars a year to incarcerate. In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested deporting illegals as a cost-saving measure. The state argued at the time that “These inmates are the federal government’s responsibility and California taxpayers shouldn’t be paying the bill.” The federal government, however, was not as forthcoming as it might have been, and the plan didn’t meet its potential. Given that the current choice may be between deporting convicted illegals or letting them roam free, the case for deportation is even stronger.

Illegal aliens are by definition engaged in criminal activity - namely being in the United States in violation of immigration laws. This point has carried little weight with the Justice Department, which has frowned on efforts at the state level to stem the illegal flood. But those illegals already convicted of unrelated crimes at the state level not only have no right to be in the country but have abused the privilege of being here. There is no rationale for letting them remain longer.

The criminal deportation system is already in place. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that under the ICE Criminal Alien Program (CAP), record numbers of illegal-alien convicts are being deported, including 195,000 last year alone. The system is not foolproof; a Feb. 4 report by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security revealed that in 2009, CAP failed to identify 890 criminal aliens eligible for removal in two states, California and Texas. These criminals were subsequently released into the general population. Moreover, the high numbers of deportations are still a fraction of what is possible - the report estimates that “300,000 to 450,000 criminal aliens who are eligible for removal are detained each year at federal, state and local correctional facilities.”

Sending criminal aliens home is a solution for numerous problems. Focusing on deporting illegals will help California comply with the federal court order, will reduce the number of undocumented migrants in the country, keep the streets safe and help close California’s ruinous budget gap. Although this expedient has been forced by circumstances, it could serve as a model for other states with large illegal-immigrant prison populations to reduce prison crowding and save money. That is assuming the Obama administration won’t let politics get in the way.