Twenty-two illegal immigrant inmates from Oklahoma turned over to federal officials could be in their home countries by next week, The Oklahoman reports. It was the state's first large transfer since legislation was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry in June. The law allows inmates not in the country legally to be turned over to federal custody for deportation if they have been convicted of a nonviolent crime and have served at least one-third of their prison sentences.
Supporters of the law say it helps the state save money and free up prison beds; opponents say deported inmates may not realize that although they are released from prison early, they will likely have no legal avenue to return to the U.S. The state pays $20,000 a year to house an inmate. Officials estimate about 541 illegal immigrant inmates are in the state's prison system. Of those, 346 will eventually be eligible for deportation. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that allows illegal immigrant inmates to be turned over to federal custody for deportation before their sentence is complete.