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Arizona: Mexico says ‘no’ to private prison plan.

Chris Hawley
Republic Mexico City Bureau
March 2, 2005

MEXICO CITY - Mexico has rejected a proposal by some Arizona lawmakers to move undocumented inmates to a privately run prison south of the border, calling it an "insult" to Mexico's sovereignty.

A bill moving through the Arizona House of Representatives would allow the state to contract a prison in Mexico to hold undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes in the United States.

The House Government Affairs Committee approved the bill last week, and a delegation of Arizona lawmakers planned to bring up the idea during a visit to Sonora today.

But the government of President Vicente Fox has said it would be unthinkable for Mexicans to keep fellow citizens imprisoned for crimes that weren't committed in Mexico.

"To build any structure of that type would require authorization of the Mexican government, authorization that we are not going to give," Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said during a news conference Monday.

"I don't know where that (idea) came from - it had to have been dreamed up by, well, I'm not going to use the word, but some people in the United States," Derbez said, according to a transcript released late Monday.

Arizonans pay $80 million to $100 million a year to house the 4,000 undocumented immigrants in state prisons, said Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, the bill's chief proponent. He said the measure is simply aimed at saving money.

"This (bill) is simply realizing that we have an issue, and trying to resolve the issue in the most reasonable and humanitarian way," Jones said.

But the Mexican government doesn't see it that way, Derbez said.

"I believe that not only is it wrong, it's something that shouldn't even have been brought up," Derbez said. "It's an insult to even have made a suggestion of this nature when it is clear and evident that the government of Mexico, this administration at least, is in no way going to permit this type of activity."

Jones said he and other members of the Arizona House and Senate still intended to pitch the idea to Sonora state officials during a visit today to Hermosillo. "I think we could provide jobs down there. I think it will be a good thing," said state Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park, another member of the delegation. "We should be able to compromise on this."

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