Four years ago, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office signed a lucrative contract to house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Since that time, this Intergovernmental Services Agreement has generated more than $7 million, according to Sheriff Terry Maketa's staff. As Undersheriff Paula Presley points out, money from the ICE contract funded construction of the county's detox center and, most recently, purchased the $200,000 SECURPASS screening system used at intake.
But, she says, they've intentionally kept it out of the sheriff's annual operating budget.
It doesn't support staffing or other jail expenses, since, as Presley says, "we can't count on that revenue."
Look at the numbers, and you can see why.
At its height in 2009, the ICE contract — which pays the sheriff $62.40 per detainee, per day, at the Criminal Justice Center — brought in more than $2.6 million. A total of 5,793 detainees were held here for a total of 43,182 days.
But last year, 3,166 detainees were held for 23,169 days, earning the sheriff less than $1.5 million.
According to Carl Rusnok, ICE regional director of communications, the state overall has seen a simultaneous drop in deportations. In 2009, ICE deported 7,364 people from Colorado, but every year since, that number has decreased by up to a thousand. Through the first half of the year, it was on track to deport only about 4,000.
These declines seem out of line with national trends. Alan Kaplan, director of communications for the left-leaning Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, says President Barack Obama "has deported more people than George [W.] Bush ever did in two terms."
In total, Bush's administration deported 1.57 million illegal immigrants. As of June, according to ICE, Obama's administration has deported 1.48 million, and deportations for 2012 alone will likely break 400,000.
The declines also seem counterintuitive to what local attorney Aaron Hall has seen at Denver Immigration Court. Hall says the court has been so burdened that earlier this year, it purged its docket by dismissing some lower-priority cases. "Since then," he says, "even though they made this huge effort to get some of the cases off the docket, the case load has actually increased."
So what's at work here? Hall and Kaplan aren't certain; Rusnok isn't sure, either, and can't speculate. But Susan Long, co-director of the TRAC Immigration Project, a national group that gathers data on federal agencies, points out that our deportation number doesn't refer to ICE detainees arrested, or even tried, in Colorado — just detainees deported out of Colorado. Sometimes, even those tried here get moved elsewhere, and held for months, before they're shipped out.
"If they have decided that they [ICE] aren't going to detain people in Colorado, and rather detain them someplace else, then deportation numbers will go down," she says. Typically, she says, she has seen the capacity increasing along the southwest border with Mexico.
"Someone picked up in Colorado might be moved someplace else and deported from a different port," she says. "It's really hard to connect where the person is picked up and what ultimately happens to them."
Rusnok won't say why Colorado's become a less popular place to try and deport detainees. And all Presley can say is that they "never know" how many detainees ICE will be bringing to their facility, or how long they will remain there.
Year Inmates Days held Compensation
2009 5,793 43,182 $2,694,557
2010 4,497 27,368 $1,707,763
2011 3,166 23,169 $1,445,746
2012* 1,212 11,592 $723,341
Source: El Paso County Sheriff's Office