Doña Ana County



It takes a bit of paperwork, but Lt. Vicki Garcia of the Doña Ana County Detention Center plugs away, month after month. And the results are tangible: Since 1996, she has landed $691,000 in federal funds to help reimburse the county for the costs of housing documented illegal aliens detained locally by the state.

Garcia said the county was alerted in 1995 by a social worker to the availability of reimbursement funds from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Since then, she said, the county has applied in three fiscal cycles and has received more money in each successive year as a result. In the last fiscal year, she said, the county was awarded $400,083 through the program.

“We had requested $1,089,612 for 171 illegal alien inmates detained for the state during that period,” Garcia said, “but we’re not going to be upset about not getting all of it.”

Only inmates detained locally and charged by the state can be submitted for reimbursement, Garcia said. Federal inmates detained locally are held under a contract with the U.S. Marshal’s Office by which the county receives payment. Since the state is not required to reimburse the county, she said, the federal government makes a limited reimbursement program available.

Most agencies, she said, do not participate in the program at all, and those who do are competing for limited funds that are meted out by a formula known only to the Department of Justice. Only the profiles of state inmates who are detained for more than three days can be submitted for reimbursement, Garcia said.

Each competing county, Garcia said, is required to send a diskette listing all qualifying inmates. The diskette must contain each inmate’s full name, place of birth, length of stay, current charges and past convictions.

It is the latter category that Garcia spends the most time researching. If she can show that an inmate has at least one prior felony conviction or two prior misdemeanor convictions, then she can enter that inmate’s name into the program and apply for partial reimbursement of costs.

How much the county gets back as a result, she said, “depends to a great extent on how many agencies apply for the funds and how much is available for reimbursement in that particular year.”

In the first year of applying, Doña Ana County received $133,000, Garcia said, followed by $158,000 in the second year and $400,083 most recently.

“It’s kind of unpredictable,” she said.

What is not unpredictable, however, is the fact that the Doña Ana County Detention Center will continue both to house documented illegal aliens and to participate in the cost-reimbursement program.

“We’ve programmed our booking and release computers to help me track this information, so that we can expedite the applications for funds each year,’ Garcia said. “In the first two years, pulling all this information together was a lot of hard work. It’s still not exactly easy, but it’s better than it was before and we got more money this time, so I think we’re on the right track.”

Garcia estimates that she spends about 20 hours a month compiling inmate records through the year and then about three solid weeks leading up to the Sept. 18 deadline for submission. Once the records are submitted, she said, it takes several months to receive the money.

“We’re still waiting on that $400,000,” she said, “but we know it’s coming, and that’s good.”