Stephen Wall, Staff Writer
Created: 01/27/2010 06:15:55 PM PST

San Bernardino County wants the federal government to pick up the $21 million tab to incarcerate and provide probation services for illegal immigrants.

The funding request is contained in the county’s 2010 priority list for state and federal funds, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“Immigration is a federal responsibility,” said County Supervisor Neil Derry. “Neither the state nor local governments should be required to bear the burden of the failure of the federal government to secure our borders.”

The county wants the federal government to cover its full cost to incarcerate illegal immigrants who have at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law.

Since 2004, county taxpayers have spent about $54.5 million to jail illegal immigrants. Federal officials have reimbursed the county about $6.7 million since then through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

In 2008, the last year for which figures are available, the county spent $15.8 million to jail illegal immigrants. The county only received $2.2 million in federal reimbursements that year, said Lance Larson, the county’s legislative affairs director.

The county has sought full funding of the program for at least six or seven years. Members of Congress from both parties have supported the county’s request, Larson said.

“No county has gotten full funding under this program,” Larson said. “To make it worse, the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration over the last couple years have suggested to Congress that they zero out the program.”

Both administrations proposed cutting or eliminating the program as a way to help balance the federal budget, county officials said.

The limited funding the county gets from the program is used to staff the jails with sheriff’s deputies needed to handle the large influx of illegal immigrants in custody, said Undersheriff Richard Beemer.

“If we were to lose funding, we would have to take deputies out of patrol positions to staff the jails,” Beemer said. “Obviously, it would hurt us not to get the meager funding that we get.”

The county is also seeking $5.5 million in federal funds to provide probation services to illegal immigrant juveniles who are in custody pending hearings before federal immigration judges.

They are housed in juvenile detention facilities and receive food, medical care, therapy, counseling, supervision and other services. In some cases, they are placed in group homes or other facilities until their court dates.

“Any of the services we would normally provide to anybody else we would provide to them,” said Michelle Scray, chief of the probation department.

About 10 percent of the people in the county’s juvenile probation system are foreign-born, Scray said.

In 2009, based on the number of juvenile Mexican-born citizens detained during the previous fiscal year, the county estimates that up to 7,314 detention bed days were used. In addition, an estimated 68,065 juvenile suspension days and 771,686 adult supervision days for Mexican-born immigrants were used, officials said.

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