Boon Turns to Bust For Midwest Immigrant Jails


The housing of illegal immigrants for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was an economic boon to some rural Midwestern counties, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Several communities in Missouri and Illinois gambled on illegal immigration as an economic development tool, using money earned from housing detainees to subsidize county operations. They built or upgraded jails, urged on, they say, by immigration enforcement officials anxious to find space to house a growing number of detainees.

But now the number of immigrants being detained in some counties has dropped, in some cases precipitously. That, in turn, left sizable budget shortfalls to confront. In some counties, the ICE contract annually accounted for as much as 60 percent of the jail population and half the law enforcement budget. “We do miss them,” Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lt. Andy Binder said of the 30 to 40 immigration detainees his 216-bed jail averaged on any given day over the last six years. The county hasn’t housed a detainee in months, he said. “In this economy, it’s not easy to find $150,000 lying around in a small county,” Binder said. “It hurts.”

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