A failure by the federal government to file proper paperwork to deport illegals to Mexico is costing the state of Arizona $28,000 a day, say state prison officials.

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Dora Schriro said deporting the criminals should be a “no-brainer” given the money that could be saved and the beds that could be freed in the state’s overcrowded prison system.

Yet, formal deportation orders for 46 of the 526 eligible inmates have been on file for several months, but state prison officials can’t get Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pick them up, Schriro told the Tuscon Citizen.

The drain on the state’s prison system prompted Gov. Janet Napolitano to send an invoice to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, requesting compensation for more than $118 million over the past 18 months. Napolitano demanded that the federal government pay up or take custody of the thousands of criminal illegal immigrants housed in Arizona prisons.

Each inmate costs the state $53.44 per day to house. The state recoups $17.12 of that through the federal government’s State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

By the end of the year, the state expects to have 590 additional inmates who could be deported to Mexico.

Under a 1996 state law, illegal immigrants convicted of certain felonies are eligible for deportation to Mexico after they complete 50 percent of their sentences, she said. The law applies to Class 3 through 6 felonies, involving “nondangerous, nonrepetitive” offenses, excluding sex crimes.

Some critics of the border policy said Arizonans already pay a hefty price for illegal immigration in terms of education, medical costs and government programs. Arizona’s 350-mile stretch of border is the busiest in terms of arrests of illegal immigrants. The problem has spilled out from federal immigration detention centers down to state prisons and local jails.

Last year, Napolitano said, the state housed an average daily population of 3,642 criminal immigrants at an estimated cost of more than $71 million but received about $9 million in federal reimbursement.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.