Staff and Wire Reports

BOLEY, Oklahoma -- Nearly two dozen illegal inmates in state prison are being turned over today to federal authorities for deportation.

A group of 22 inmates are scheduled to be transferred Thursday from the John Lilley Correctional Center near Boley to officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Twenty of the inmates are from Mexico, one is from Guatemala and one is from El Salvador. They range in age from 20 to 61, and most have been convicted of drug crimes.

"Our prison system has about 541 illegal alien inmates in our custody," State Representative Randy Terrill said.

State Representative Randy Terrill of Moore is the author of Criminal Illegal Alien Rapid Repatriation Act.   

"Each one of those guys cost taxpayer of Oklahoma $20,000 a year to house, so by deporting them we're seeing a substantial saving to taxpayers," Rep. Terrill said.

The inmates are eligible for transfer under a new state law that requires deportation for inmates who already have served at least one-third of their prison sentence for nonviolent crimes.

"For too long, Oklahoma's working families have paid the price for the federal government's failure to control our nation's borders," Terrill said.  Now, thanks to the Criminal Illegal Alien Rapid Repatriation Act of 2009, the federal government will have to bear the financial burden created by these criminals who never should have been here in the first place."

He says the program is being considered by other states around the country and he's proud Oklahoma is the first one to actually do it. 

"All of these people are classified as non-violent," Oklahoma Department of Corrections Spokesperson Jerry Massie said. "Most are drug crimes by. By getting rid of this batch, we're producing substantial savings."

Massie said it will help save money in the long run and free up space.

"It still gives us a chance to have some movement in the system and take some pressure off the County Jails," Massie said.

State prison officials say a total of 181 inmates currently meet the criteria for deportation. So far, 32 have been turned over to customs agents.