"We pay them to build a prison down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there in a prison and with prison guards and all this," said Schwarzenegger Monday. "It will halve the costs."
He noted California could save a billion dollars a year that could go toward public colleges and universities instead.
The governor's comments drew sharp criticism. Latinos especially find them insensitive.
"He should stop offending everyone in his wake," said state Assemblyman Alberto Torrico (D-Newark). "I hope that the governor gets serious about our prisons. He's had five years to do so, he's failed to do so. But throwing the problem to Mexico will not solve it."
As of the end of last year, California prisons had more than 22,000 inmates who may be here illegally. Fifteen thousand of them identified themselves as from Mexico.
"To trust another government to not only incarcerate, but to rehabilitate individuals who've committed crimes in California is craziness," said Lance Corcoran, spokesman for the Calif. Correctional Peace Officers Assoc. "They have friends and relatives here. The chances are they're coming back to California."
Schwarzenegger's idea hasn't been vetted so it's unclear whether it's even legal.
"We don't have any proposal put together, nothing set in stone," said the governor's press secretary Aaron McLear. "But like any other creative solution to spending less on prisons, the governor thinks we ought to talk about that."
The Calif. Legislative Analyst's Office says nearly 10 percent of the state budget goes to prisons, while less than 6 percent goes to higher education. It's spending the governor wants to reverse through a state constitutional amendment.