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Perry: Feds Owe Texas for Incarcerating Illegal Immigrants

Just days before announcing his candidacy for president, Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to the Obama administration saying Washington owes Texas more than $349 million for the state's incarceration of illegal immigrants.

Gov. Rick Perry lunches with business leaders at the Star Restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa, on Aug. 16, 2011.

Just days before announcing his candidacy for president, Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to the Obama administration saying Washington owes Texas more than $349 million for Texas' incarceration of illegal immigrants.

In the letter, first reported today by The Associated Press, Perry said that cost is directly associated with the federal government’s failure to secure the border, an oft-repeated rebuke of the Obama administration that Perry has been repeating on the campaign trail. 

The letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, dated Aug. 10, says the federal government’s failure to secure the border “continues to burden local communities and resources in Texas.”

“Therefore on behalf of all the taxpaying citizens of Texas, I am respectfully submitting a reimbursement request in the amount of $349,283,453 for state and local costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants,” Perry wrote. The letter includes a statement from Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, who says the request is “reasonable” despite being a “conservative estimate.”

Perry said his office made the multimillion-dollar calculation using figures from the Texas Association of Counties and the U.S. Department of Justice. He acknowledged the government has partially reimbursed the state for its participation in the DOJ’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, but said it is not nearly enough. To drive home his point, Perry included in his letter language from a similar plea Napolitano sent to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005, when she was governor of Arizona.

“As you stated in 2005 … while the federal programs such as the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) provide some of the reimbursement to county jails, the ‘sum bears no relationship whatsoever to the state’s actual average costs of incarcerating criminal aliens,’” Perry wrote.

Perry, who has made his job creation record as governor a staple of his fledgling campaign, has been somewhat quiet on immigration and border security. As Perry continues to make headway among the field of Republican candidates, however, immigration issues — and whether Perry has been hard enough on them — could take center stage.

Political analysts say that Perry must toe a careful line on immigration, following a legislative session where he pushed hard for state enforcement of immigration laws. The longest-serving governor of Texas has alienated some potential supporters after his push to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas. Comparisons have been made between that legislation — which would have prevented local governments and law enforcement entities from adopting policies preventing peace officers from inquiring into the immigration status of persons arrested or detained — and more extreme proposals initiated in Arizona and other states. Perry, however, has continued to say the Texas law would have only allowed officers to use their discretion, as opposed to being required to ask about status. The measures failed to pass in Texas during the regular and special sessions of the 82nd Legislature.

The full text of the letter is below:

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