I heartily endorse Nevada Supreme Court Justice Jim Hardesty's proposed legislation to deport non-violent criminal aliens in a policy shift that would relieve prison overcrowding and save Silver State taxpayers many millions of dollars per year. I urge state lawmakers to give Hardesty's proposal the careful consideration that it deserves.
According to Justice Hardesty, Nevada could save at least $10 million a year by deporting some 500 non-violent criminal aliens, each of whom costs taxpayers approximately $20,000 per year (although I think those numbers are closer to 2,000 criminals and $50,000 per inmate). Many of these convicted felons are in prison for possessing "trafficking amounts" of illicit narcotics. As a part-time English/Spanish interpreter, I've seen this problem up close and personal over the past 10 years and don't think the current approach is a cost-effective approach to the problem. At present, drug "mules" usually serve two- to six-year prison terms before being deported.
When he was on the bench, retired Carson City District Judge Mike Griffin often lamented that state law required him to send relatively low-level offenders to prison while major traffickers remained free to peddle their deadly wares. Griffin advocated an alternative solution: Deport the offender to his or her country of origin (most often Mexico) with just one condition - stay out of the U.S. and don't come back. Any deportee who's ordered not to return violates federal law by re-crossing the border and faces 10 years in prison, which is a strong deterrent.
Under Hardesty's proposal, each qualified inmate would be evaluated by the parole board to determine whether he or she should be deported. "I know right now of 469 inmates who are in prison on a single felony conviction," Hardesty said. Rick Eaton of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency seemed amenable to the plan, commenting that his agency "has the money and beds to hold and deport" the prisoners.
Those who oppose Hardesty's common sense approach to prison overcrowding, such as federal public defender Vito de la Cruz of Reno, argue that the judge's plan could result in the deportation of "the most attractive of the illegal immigrant felons." Attractive? I don't think so because they were already in violation of our immigration laws before they were convicted of drug felonies.
Some journalists and lawmakers offer qualified support for the Hardesty Plan by agreeing that first-time drug offenders should be offered probation, but a few also sympathize with de la Cruz's "second chance" proposal. No way! Deportation with a no-return clause should be a mandatory condition for probation in such cases. This would represent reciprocity with Mexico, which deports criminal aliens without recourse to the courts or parole authorities. As for violent offenders and major drug dealers, they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
One fellow columnist wrote that "about 12,800 inmates are currently housed in Nevada's eight prisons, about 1,000 more than can be accommodated without putting up cots in gymnasiums and using trailers." I'll accept those numbers but disagree about giving second chances to criminal aliens. They already had their chance and should have thought about possible consequences before they transported and/or sold drugs. For those worried about family reunification, they can be reunited in their home countries.
More on Illegal Immigration and Drugs
We keep hearing stories about the positive contributions of illegal immigrants to the American economy. Well, I have two chilling examples to offer on the other side of that story. Earlier this month, U.S. authorities cracked a little-known Mexican drug cartel that had been moving huge quantities of drugs from South America to San Diego, from where they were sent to more than 20 states, including Nevada.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a 22-month federal sting operation netted a Mexican drug kingpin, some 400 of his employees - many of whom are so-called "undocumented workers" - more than $45 million in cash and tons of drugs. "A drug empire that rose to such heights of power in only two years, fell today," said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chief Karen Tandy as she announced the huge drug bust. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch of folks.
And just last week Mexican anti-drug agents seized $205 million in cash from a house in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood where many of the city's politicians, diplomats and business leaders reside. Newly elected President Felipe Calderon said the money belonged to drug traffickers and constituted the largest cash seizure ever in Mexico. If Calderon is really serious about dismantling Mexican drug cartels, we should congratulate him for his courage and offer our support to help stem the flow of crystal meth and other dangerous drugs into the U.S.
These are hopeful signs in the anti-drug wars and we should assist Mexico in cracking down on the drug cartels while at the same time deporting non-violent criminal aliens in order to save millions of Nevada taxpayer dollars. Again, I urge the Legislature to pass the Hardesty Bill.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, served in the front lines of the War On Drugs for nearly 30 years as a U.S. Foreign Service officer.