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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's suggestion on Monday to build a prison in Mexico raised several questions, not least of which was how many illegal immigrant inmates in California actually have Mexican citizenship.

Schwarzenegger's suggestion drew a response from Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, whose office said in a press release today that the governor erroneously implied all illegal immigrant prisoners are from Mexico, a claim that "showed tremendous racial insensitivity."

As of Dec. 31, 2009, California prisons had 22,173 inmates with an immigration hold or potential immigration hold, according to a Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation analysis. That represented 13 percent of the state's 168,830 inmates.

Inmates self-identify their country of birth, so the citizenship breakdown may not be entirely accurate, according to CDCR spokesman Gordon Hinkle. For instance, 827 of the inmates with an actual or potential immigration hold reported they were born in the United States, but they have a hold because their citizenship is in question.

According to the chart, 15,124 of the 22,173 inmates with an actual or potential immigration hold self-identified as Mexican natives, equal to 68.2 percent. The second-highest country was El Salvador, which had 1,133, or 5.1 percent. After that came the United States, for the aforementioned reason, with 3.7 percent. Vietnam was fourth with 734 inmates, or 3.3 percent.

You can see the CDCR tables here.

CORRECTION: A reader points out that we misread the CDCR tables indicating which crimes were most common among illegal immigrants. The most common crime among illegal immigrants was lewd act (2,688), followed by robbery (2,473) and second-degree murder (2,454).


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