Galen Scott 

State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) filed legislation authorizing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to operate a prison facility in Mexico Wednesday.

The prison would be for housing Mexican nationals convicted of non-violent crimes in Texas, according to a recent news release.

Estes called the number of illegal residents who commit state crimes while in Texas “an unfortunate fact of immigration.” He said a Mexican prison facility would help with rehabilitation and reduce repeat offenders.

“These offenders are often cut off from family support networks that are on the other side of an international border,” Estes said. “If these inmates were housed in Mexico, it would be possible for family to visit and help with their rehabilitation and reintroduction into Mexican society.”

Estes noted such offenders are deported upon release from prison and such a facility should make it easier to repatriate them to their home nation.

Texas prisons currently hold 153,000 inmates, of which approximately 8,000 are Mexican nationals, according to the news release. “Since the bill would only authorize the transfer of non-violent offenders, it is estimated the policy would apply to 3,000 to 4,000 offenders.”

Estes noted the bill is not a mandate to build a prison in Mexico, but an option. Critics say the plan could violate both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.

Estes represents District 30, which includes Parker County and serves approximately 700,000 people, according to the senator’s Web site.

The 80th Texas Legislative session began January 9, and several immigration bills are drawing the nation’s attention.

District 6 Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) is proposing an 8 percent fee on money transmissions from Texas to Mexico, Central or South America.

Berman, a well-known conservative at the center of the Texas immigration debate, wants the $250 million expected to be raised by the fee to reimburse hospitals that provide healthcare for illegal immigrants.

According to the Multilateral Investment Foundation, 75 percent of all remittance money sent to Latin American and Caribbean countries is coming from the United States, an estimated $40 billion.

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Staryhorn fueled the immigration debate by estimating the net worth of illegal immigrants to the state economy last year.

Strayhorn’s report found illegal immigrants put about $420 million more toward the Texas budget than they receive through state-funded programs.

“The absence of 1.4 million undocumented immigrants in Texas ... would have been a loss to our gross state product of $17.7 billion,” Strayhorn said in a statement.

Berman and other lawmakers have criticized the accuracy of Strayhorn’s report, preferring instead to cite numbers produced by the Lone Star Council, a conservative group which estimates illegal aliens cost the state about $3.7 billion annually.

A bill introduced by Rep. Diane White Delisi (R-Temple) could result in the production of more accurate nunbers.

White filed House Bill 127, requiring state agencies to report annually the cost of services and benefits provided to unlawful immigrants.

Other new immigration bills could mean more protection for Texas’ approximately 1.4 million illegal immigrants.

Senate Bill 151, filed by Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (R-El Paso), would make it illegal for hospital staff to question the immigration status or nationality of a person in need of medical services.

In 2002, the Center for Immigration Studies found one-third of U.S. immigrants do not have health insurance — 2.5 times the rate for natives.

Texans can follow the progress of bills in the 80th Legislature by visiting online.

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