Arizona has extended a limited-time offer to all immigrants in the state to be voluntarily incarcerated for a 10-year period, following which they would enjoy a six-month exemption from the state requirement that all immigrants over the age of 14 carry their government registration documents in their possession at all times.
The voluntary incarceration offer was made in response to concerns regarding the thousands of illegal immigrants currently serving time in Arizona prisons. If current trends continue, demographic experts anticipate that by 2015, the majority of Arizona immigrants - legal and otherwise - will be in prison. And it's predicted that over the next 20 years, 97% of immigrants living in Arizona will spend at least one year in a correctional facility.
As Americans know all too well, prosecution of illegal immigrants costs money. Sending immigrants to prison can entail thousands, even millions, of dollars in litigation fees - hence the voluntary incarceration program, the reaction to which has been largely positive.
Pilar Ortiz, a 19-year-old Spanish citizen currently attending Arizona State University, is torn as to whether participate in the voluntary incarceration program.
"I have a student visa that's good for 18 more months," says Pilar. "But renewal isn't guaranteed. Ultimately, I would say that my decision as to whether to be voluntarily incarcerated will depend on the online university courses they offer in prison. If University of Phoenix has a good selection, it would probably be smart to take advantage of the limited-time offer."
Pedro Rodriguez, a Mexican citizen who has a green card, also said that he will most likely opt to be voluntarily incarcerated.
"America is the land of opportunity," says Pedro. "But great opportunities don't come along every day. I'm not an illegal, but what happens if one day I forget to carry my papers with me? I don't want something so foolish to tarnish my work record. This will keep me safe from criminal charges for a full ten years, not even counting the additional six-month exemption."
While most Arizona residents support the bill, they naturally don't want to pay the additional expense associated with immigrants' voluntary 10-year prison stay. Local businesses have come together to offer an "Alien Groupon" that offers immigrants especially low rates on prison stays, as well as a variety of special incarceration options ranging from solitary confinement to lower-fee mandatory drug tests.
Participants in the program will also have the option of making a $5 donation to any of Arizona's privately run correctional facilities, which will help to offset expenditures and increase stock value for corporate shareholders.
"I'll definitely make the donation," says undocumented immigrant Alejandro Mendes. "Even though I'm illegal, I consider myself an American citizen, and anything I can do to help the economy, I will."
One worry Mendes and other immigrants did have was whether the voluntary incarceration offer will be upheld if the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately strikes down as unconstitutional the controversial "The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" (often known as Arizona SB 1070). Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was quick to alleviate such concerns.
"Of course we'll honor the offer," stated Governor Brewer. "We would never treat our state's immigrants, legal or otherwise, as anything less than second-class non-citizens."