PHOENIX – The Arizona House approved a proposal Tuesday for the state to contract to have a private prison built in Mexico to house illegal immigrants (search) now incarcerated in Arizona.
Supporters say the proposal will reduce the state's heavy costs in imprisoning the 3,600 to 4,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona prisons who have been convicted of crimes.
Opponents questioned whether this approach would save money, whether the state has the legal authority to move the foreign prisoners to Mexico and whether Mexico would welcomed the prison.
"I'm wondering what kind of problems we invite if we contract with a private, for-profit entity that is operating in a foreign country outside of our laws," said Democratic Rep. Tom Prezelski (search) of Tucson, who voted against the proposal.
House Speaker Jim Weiers (search) said he and other Arizona lawmakers traveled to Hermosillo, Mexico, last week and that officials there were interested in the prison idea. "They weren't angered," the Phoenix Republican said.
The 39-20 vote by the House sends the bill (HB2709) to the Senate.
The bill is one of many moving through the Legislature that tries to confront the problems caused by illegal immigration.
More than any other state in recent years, Arizona has been flooded with illegal immigrant traffic since the government tightened enforcement in El Paso, Texas, and San Diego during the mid-1990s.
Several Arizona lawmakers have said the federal government hasn't done enough to confront illegal immigration and therefore has dumped massive costs on the state.
Gov. Janet Napolitano (search) is trying to get the federal government to pay for nearly $118 million in unreimbursed costs for imprisoning illegal immigrants.