Massachusetts sheriffs are glad to house suspected illegal immigrants; for each one, they get an average of $90 a day, reports the Boston Globe. Cash-strapped county jails are embracing the immigration business, capitalizing on the soaring number of foreign-born detainees and the millions of federal dollars a year paid to incarcerate them. Bristol County alone has raked in $33 million since 2001, and has used the money to transform its jail into a sprawling campus with a commissary, an ambulance communications center, and a “management accountability building” for regular meetings on jail operations. “That money is a tremendous boost for us,” said Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., whose jail houses 324 immigrants, up from 44 a decade ago, bringing in $15.6 million last year. “We aggressively try to market ourselves to get as many of those inmates into our doors as we can.”
Advocates for immigrants say the government should dramatically reduce the number of detainees, by releasing them pending deportation. They complain about the burden on taxpayers – this year, the federal government budgeted $1.7 billion nationwide and $42.8 million in New England for detainees – and the risks to immigrants. Last year, Hiu Lui Ng, 34, a native of China who overstayed his visa, died of cancer after being detained at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island. A federal inquiry found that jail officials denied his requests for medical care and other services. “The man who died at Wyatt shouldn’t have been in detention at all,” said Sara Ignatius of the Boston-based Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project. “Eighty to 90 dollars a day to lock up somebody who’s just overstayed their visa? It just seems like a very inappropriate way to spend federal money.” About 30,000 immigrant detainees are held on any given day, almost four times as many as in 1995.