Immigrants accounted for more than 30 percent of the federal prison population and nearly all of them are confirmed or suspected illegal immigrants, the government said in a new report Tuesday.
The government said it had 57,820 immigrants in its prisons as of Dec. 31, Homeland Security and the Justice Department said in the joint report.
Nearly 20,000 other immigrants were held in pretrial detention by the U.S. Marshals Service, most of them in contracted facilities, costing the government $134 million for just three months. That works out to nearly $90 a day for each person in those contract facilities.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said there shouldn’t be any illegal immigrants in prisons, because they shouldn’t have been in the country in the first place.
“Every crime committed by an illegal alien is, by definition, a crime that should have been prevented,” he said in releasing the report. “It is outrageous that tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year because of the drugs and violence brought over our borders illegally and that taxpayers have been forced, year after year, to pay millions of dollars to incarcerate tens of thousands of illegal aliens.”
President Trump last year ordered the Justice and Homeland Security departments to produce a regular count of immigrants in prisons to give taxpayers a sense for one of the costs the government bears.
The total federal prison population is about 185,000, so immigrants would account for about 31 percent. The vast majority are people who have been ordered to be deported, making them illegal immigrants once their sentences are completed. About 8 percent are illegal immigrants the government has asked a judge to order to be deported, and another 5 percent are legal immigrants whom the government is also trying to deport in light of their crimes.
A very small number — 169 — have been granted a specific protection and cannot be deported.
The numbers are from last year, or before the new zero tolerance policy the administration has adopted at the border. Under that policy, nearly every person who crosses the border illegally is being charged with a crime for illegal entry, a misdemeanor. If they’ve been deported before and try to sneak back, they’re charged with illegal re-entry, a felony.
Outside the prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service also held 19,688 confirmed immigrants as of Dec. 31, and another 3,022 whose status was still being investigated.
Those numbers could shoot up in future reports thanks to the zero tolerance policy, which is adding hundreds of immigrants a week to the court dockets in California, Arizona and Texas.
The report said 29 percent of the immigrants in federal prisons are serving immigration-related charges such as sneaking back in after being deported, or smuggling other illegal immigrants.
Nearly half of the migrants in federal custody were there for drug smuggling or dealing.
Sex offenders accounted for 2 percent. Fraudsters were 4 percent and another 4 percent were in for weapons offenses.
The report singled out some of those in federal custody, like Anibel Rondolpho Rodriguez, an MS-13 gang member who is serving a 45-year sentence after pleading guilty to gang-related involvement in two murders and two other attempted murders.
Two others singled out for mention were a man who had been in the U.S. legally and his partner in crime, an illegal immigrant, who were manufacturing homemade grenades. Some were sold in the U.S. while others were being shipped to Mexico. At the time of his arrest, the lead bombmaker was working to build a batch of 200 grenades, the government said.