The federal government gives law enforcement millions to help jail criminals who are here illegally.
But, critics say we only get pennies on the dollar. So, where is the rest of the money?
Ernesto Oliveras-Sanchez is being booked into the Maricopa County jail after being arrested for DUI.
He is in the United States illegally.
If Ernesto is found guilty, Maricopa County will notify the federal government and apply for money to help offset the cost of jail time.
Reimbursement would come from something called SCAAP or the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.
But, here's the key: in order to get that money, the person here illegally must also be convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors.
Every year, the program pays out hundreds of millions of dollars.
Local jurisdictions compete for the funds, so some get more, while others get less.
Arizona might be ground zero for the debate over illegal immigration, but we don't get the bulk of the funding.
In fact, Arizona ranks fifth on the list.
“We get some money, but I feel we should receive more because we are helping out the federal government,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Just take a look at the disparity -- the federal government gave Surry County, North Carolina $12,107 to house a single illegal immigrant for just five days.
That's more than $2,400 a day.
Compare that to Claiborne Parish, Louisiana which received only $1,223 for an inmate who was held 363 days.
That is just $3.37 a day.
The next concern was uncovered by the White House.
Their website, ExpectMore.gov , started looking at the issue back in 2002.
Roughly 20 percent of the names submitted for funding are not eligible because they are naturalized citizens or entered the country legally.
It recommends terminating SCAAP.
Presidents from both parties have tried to get rid of the program.
Critics say it's simply forcing communities like Maricopa County to single out illegal immigrants they would otherwise ignore.
Over the last three years, the number of inmates confirmed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be in the U.S. illegally has spiked by almost 40 percent.
In Maricopa County, it has more than doubled.
“It creates a strong incentive for a jail or prison to try to determine if someone's an illegal immigrant because if they can, they can get this money from the federal government,” said Steven Camarota.
He is with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. based group that wants to see the federal government increase its presence along the border.
“Without the SCAAP program there would certainly be less incentive to identify illegal immigrants,” said Camarota.
Last year, the feds paid out more than $393 million nationwide.
California receives the overwhelming majority at almost 40 percent.
Arizona received less than 5 percent.
“I would like to see the federal government take more interest in incarceration, in law enforcement, but I'm not gonna hold my breath,” said Sheriff Arpaio.
Both the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, headed by Arizona's former governor refused our repeated requests for an interview.
They also refused to comment.
Use out searchable database to find out how much money state and counties have gotten over the last three years.
Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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