T   his is exactly the kind of thing that drives me crazy about the federal government and how it spends our tax dollars.

If it were an isolated case, it might be one thing. But it's not. And we know it's not.

I don't know why American taxpayers tolerate it, except I think they've mostly just given up the fight. Too many of us have hidden our heads in the sand.

But we shouldn't because it does matter.

And it does affect us directly through our wallets.

York countians -- if they've been paying even a little bit of attention -- must be aware that county government has constructed and maintained (with tax dollars) a prison complex in east York, part of which is used to house federal immigration detainees who are thought to be in this country illegally.

In fact, a significant part of it is used for nothing but housing federal immigration detainees.

Over the years -- more than a dozen years, at least -- we've housed many thousands of immigration detainees in York County for the feds. And we've profited from it.

At the same time, however, county government and, by extension, county taxpayers have battled the federal government through the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for years to be paid a reasonable sum for our contribution to their cause.

Keep in mind that York County government was actually doing the feds a favor because they didn't want to build their own prison facilities to house their own detainees. So they offered to pay the county a fee to do it for them.

Our thanks for taking on that challenge was to be called a bunch of thieves. We were sued by the feds because they said we overcharged them for housing their immigration detainees. And we ended up having to pay the feds $16 million (plus 5.5 percent interest), to reimburse them for funds they say we cheated them out of.

And guess how much we were being paid by the feds 10 years ago for housing the detainees? Well, it was $58 a day. They said the price should have been $38 a day, despite the fact they were paying $163 a day to house immigration detainees in Elizabeth, N.J.

That compares to $83 a day, which is what we're being paid today.

That's part of our history dealing with the federal government.

And here's the latest. The federal sequester mess is causing the feds to reduce the number of immigration detainees being housed in York County because they can't pay for them.

Now if you're like most people, you might ask what "sequester" is because you've never heard of it before. To be honest, I had to look it up myself. Simply put, sequestering is placing into effect automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in the face of annual budget deficits.

As you know, our federal government has been dangling its toes over one financial cliff or another for a couple of years. There's always a financial crisis, always a deadline, always a panic to deal with. Congress and the president can't get their combined acts together on the budget. And this is what happens, unless they agree at the last minute to kick the can down the road another couple of months.

Only now it affects York County directly.

Normally, we house about 750 detainees in York County Prison. That number was down to 630 by early last week. And it could go lower than that if this sequester mess continues for any length of time.

Anyway, the decrease in detainees means a revenue shortfall to York County of more than $18,000 a day. I'll do the math -- that's $126,000 a week or more than half-a-million dollars a month.

This is real money we're talking about.

So as I'm reading the story in The York Dispatch, my mind reacts in a cynical way -- this happens with some frequency, I'll admit -- and my first question is: What have they done or what are they doing with the 120 federal immigration detainees who are no longer being housed in York County Prison?

And the answer is, according to Jillian M. Christensen, deputy press secretary for ICE, there's been a review of the detainee population and some have been "placed ... in a method of supervision less costly than detention."

Honest to God, that's what she said.

They have been "placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release," Christensen said.

Basically, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the detainees have been set free. A few will be on house arrest. The rest will be free to roam the streets of America as they see fit.

So I'm naturally wondering why in heaven's name the federal government, specifically ICE, hasn't been doing that all along? I mean, ICE can either save taxpayers some money or it can't. And if there's a way to do it, and apparently there is, why haven't they been doing it all along?

The least amount of government necessary, at the lowest possible cost.

Hey, that's my operating theory across the board as it relates to the federal government.

In this one situation in York County, the feds stand to save a quarter of a million dollars a month. That's not chicken feed.

Now multiply that times all the detainees being housed all over the country -- that's about 31,000 at any one time. A little quick math tells me the feds could save taxpayers as much as $775 million a year on this one program. Probably double that with a little effort.

C'mon. This is common sense, isn't it?

Sure, in the big scheme of things a couple million dollars here and a couple million there doesn't amount to much.

But sooner or later, it does add up.

And up and up and up.

You get my drift, I'm sure.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.