Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suggested California could ease its crowded prison system by sending thousands of undocumented inmates to specially built jails in Mexico.
Speaking to reporters at the Sacramento Press Club, Schwarzenegger said California could ease its strained finances by a billion dollars if 20,000 illegal immigrants currently held in the state were housed across the border.
"I think that we can do so much better in the prison system alone if we can go and take, inmates for instance, the 20,000 inmates that are illegal immigrants that are here and get them to Mexico," Schwarzenegger said.
"Think about it -- if California gives Mexico the money. Not 'Hey, you take care of them, these are your citizens'. No. Not at all.
"We pay them to build the prison down in Mexico. And then we have those undocumented immigrants down there in prison. It would half the costs to build the prison and run the prison. We could save a billion dollars right there that could go into higher education."
Schwarzenegger's remarks come as California prepares for the latest in a long line of state budget crises.
Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency earlier this month, warning severe cuts were necessary to stem a 19.9-billion-dollar deficit.
California has some of the most overcrowded prisons in the United States, with an estimated 170,000 inmates housed in facilities designed for 100,000 people, according to 2007 figures.
Schwarzenegger said he believed the financial burden of California's prisons could be eased if the private sector moved into the industry.
"I think that there is no reason why we should have just state employees and public prisons," Schwarzenegger said. "Why shouldn't we have private prisons and private prisons competing with public prisons?
"I don't want to go and get rid of public prisons, not at all. It's not an attack on their labor union even though they may take it as such.