Politics & Government

Bennett: Deport immigrant criminals

MANATEE — State Sen. Mike Bennett again wants to offer non-violent immigrant prisoners a one-way ticket home.

Bennett, R-Bradenton, has re-filed a proposal that would deport such state prisoners to their home countries if they agree to leave in exchange for serving less than their full sentences. A similar measure he filed in the last legislative session died in committee and got a lukewarm response from Gov. Charlie Crist, who opposes early release.

But Bennett said Thursday the plan “is a no-brainer” that would remove immigrant criminals and save money at the same time.

“Getting them out of here for a $600 plane ticket instead of $20,000 a year to keep them (in prison), I’m all for that idea,” he said.

Bennett’s bill would order state prison and federal immigration officials to implement the federal Rapid REPAT (Removal of Eligible Parolees Accepted for Transfer) program in Florida.

Under the program, legal and illegal immigrants who are serving time in state prison for non-violent crimes would be eligible for conditional early release if they have a final deportation order against them. They also must waive any right to appeal their state convictions and agree not to return to the United States.

Those caught re-entering the U.S. must serve out the remainder of their state sentences and could face an additional 20 years in federal prison.

If Florida adopts the program, it could save the state more than $1 million in its first year alone, Bennett said. Arizona, New York, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island already have similar programs.

The Florida Department of Corrections said there were 5,274 confirmed alien inmates in state prisons as of Dec. 31, 2007, the latest date for which figures are available.

Of those aliens, more than 3,100 were classified as violent offenders and would not be eligible for the program.

Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, has filed a companion bill in the House.

Neither has been assigned to committee, and the 2009 legislative session doesn’t start until March.