Lee Sheriff’s Office applying for federal money to pay for holding illegal immigrants in jails

— The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will apply for a federal grant to get reimbursed for the annual cost of housing illegal immigrants in detention facilities.

Lee County Commissioners on Tuesday gave approval to the proposal from the Sheriff’s Office.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program provides federal compensation to localities that have incurred correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law and who have been incarcerated for at least four consecutive days during the reporting period. The application is due May 7 at 6 p.m.

“Right now, we’re not getting reimbursed for it, so we’d like to be reimbursed for holding federal detainees in county facilities,” said Commissioner Tammy Hall. “So when it comes to illegal aliens, this grant will provide us with assistance when we have to temporarily house illegal aliens for the federal government.”

The amount of money the agency will get this year depends on illegal alien data, said William “Bill” Bergquist, executive director of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

Last year, the program gave out a nationwide total of $393,941,785 in grant money, according to the program’s Web site. More than $16.6 million of the grant money went to the state of Florida.

“Usually what we’ve gotten reimbursed for in the last three years has been approximately $191,781 to $201,361, and then last year was $243,376,” Bergquist said. “It’s mainly for the correction officers’ salaries.”

In addition, the Sheriff’s Office uses the grant money for corrections workforce recruitment and retention, training of corrections officers, construction of corrections facilities, medical and mental health services and overtime costs.

In 2009 Collier County received $946,854, according to the assistance program’s Web site.

“The Collier County Sheriff’s Office receives more because they have their (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) program that deals specifically with illegal aliens,” Bergquist said. “We have not gone with that program.”

The Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office has received approval for the grant money for roughly the past five years.

“What we do is pull all that information, and we send it up to the federal government,” Bergquist said.

E-mail Sarah Donovan at sdonovan2@gmail.com.

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