Immigration detentions pay bills in Kansas county

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Immigration detentions and deportations are helping one Kansas county pay the bills.

The Chase County Jail is one of the places Immigration Customs Enforcement holds undocumented immigrants while figuring out their cases.

"When the jail was first built, Chase County had a contract with the U.S. Marshals and housed marshals' inmates. And just, over the years, transitioned over to immigration."

That's what Dow Wilson, the interim administrator of the jail, tells Eyewitness News.

And, while the county jail can hold 148 people, few of them are local.

"A tenth of my population is local," said Wilson. "And everybody else we contract out."

One of the biggest contracts is with ICE, Immigration Custom Enforcement.

Wilson says on any given day between one third and one half of the inmates in the building are ICE detainees. A federal study shows about 75 percent of the ICE inmates who enter the jail end up leaving the country, willingly or forcibly. Most of them, 92 percent, go to Mexico.

Some stay only a day or two. Others can be there for weeks or months as they fight deportation.

"Basically we just house and transport them," Wilson says. He adds, the ICE inmates are easy to work with. "I'll grab a radio and walk into the pods and talk with them. And it's just like the conversation you and I are having. And, step out, 'Have a good day guys!' and out the door we go."

For every ICE inmate in the Chase County Jail, for every day they stay there, the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency pays Chase County.

Wilson says it adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for his small county every year. All at a time when cities, counties, and the state itself, are struggling to pay the bills.

"It helps relieve the tax burden on the taxpayers," Wilson said. "The jail is self-sustaining. We don't have to use any tax money for the jail."

According to those federal audits, Chase County Jail is the first stop for nearly three quarters of the ICE inmates housed there.

While there, Wilson says, his officers treat them like any other inmate... and they can and receive visitors.