Rod Hoops

Posted: 02/07/2010 06:13:06 PM PST

Last week the president asked Congress to provide funding to reimburse counties for the costs of jailing and providing probation services for illegal immigrants. This request was made as part of the president’s $330 million budget request to Congress funding the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) for federal fiscal year 2011.

SCAAP is a federal program that reimburses local governments for jailing illegal aliens who have been arrested or convicted of crimes. This federally mandated program, which has been underfunded for over a decade, was targeted for elimination by the White House last year despite the fact that state and local governments spend billions of dollars to jail or imprison undocumented criminal aliens.

Local government’s actual cost of jailing illegal immigrants nationwide is $1.7 billion a year and I will work with my colleagues advocating to Congress to obtain that full amount. In the meantime, the President’s $330 million proposal is a step in the right direction.

The burden of jailing illegal aliens who are caught committing crimes in our communities should not fall on the back of local governments; the burden should rest squarely on the federal government, which has failed in its duty to keep these criminals out of our country. It is comforting the see that the White House has recognized this burden local governments have had to endure.

To date, county taxpayers have spent about $83.2 million on jailing illegal immigrants, while only receiving roughly $6.7 million in federal reimbursements. Full funding of SCAAP could provide the salaries of over 200 sheriff personnel.

Inadequate SCAAP funding has resulted in an unfair shift in costs to state and local governments, especially in California, where the state currently faces unprecedented high budget shortfalls. Every dollar of incarceration costs not reimbursed by SCAAP adds a dollar to state and local budget shortfalls that must be offset by reductions in other essential services. No state has been hurt more by inadequate SCAAP funding than California. State and county governments in California receive nearly 40 percent of total SCAAP funding because they incur nearly 40 percent of total undocumented criminal alien incarceration costs.

Working with Supervisor Paul Biane, in 2005 San Bernardino County initiated an illegal immigrant screening program at West Valley Detention Center – the county’s largest criminal booking facility. This program was created over our concern that United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers were not identifying all of the illegal immigrants booked into the facility because the agency did not have a full-time presence at the jail. This presented two problems. First, some illegal immigrants were being released on bail or on their own recognizance because they were not being properly identified as illegal immigrants. These criminals often did not return to court to face charges.

Second, by failing to document inmates who are not U.S. citizens, the county could not seek federal reimbursement for detaining them.

The county partnered with ICE to train sheriff’s personnel to check inmates’ immigration status. Now, when an illegal immigrant is identified, a detainer is placed on the inmate to prevent him/her from being released on bail. The inmates get their day in court and must serve any sentence for their crimes. Inmates are turned over to ICE for deportation after their cases are resolved.

With the efforts led by Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt and approved by the Board of Supervisors, the program was expanded in 2008 to county jails in Barstow, the Morongo Basin, Victorville, and San Bernardino using video-conferencing technology. The county has taken many steps to ensure these criminals are identified, documented, and deported, and I remain hopeful Congress will see the wisdom in fully funding SCAAP so local governments like San Bernardino County can continue to play a vital role in the efforts to fight illegal immigration.

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