President Barack Obama’s proposed 2014 federal budget includes eliminating funds for a program that helps local governments with the cost of jailing deportable inmates.
It's known as SCCAP, for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, and it's not the first time the program has been on the chopping block. The funds don't go toward housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, whose stays are covered in the Homeland Security budget. SCAAP funds go to states and local governments for costs they incur for jailing deportable foreign-born offenders who have committed serious criminal offenses.
And there lies the federal-state rub. While these inmates are jailed just as U.S. citizens are, state and local officials have long argued that the federal government should reimburse them for costs. The logic, says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore, is that controlling illegal immigration is the federal government’s job.
“This is a federal issue that we are dealing at a local level," says Whitmore, "and when you deal with a federal issue, logic dictates — and it stands true to follow — that the federal government should participate in the funding.”
Federal officials see it differently. As a White House budget official wrote in an email: "We have taken the position over the past couple of budgets that there are more targeted and efficient programs to address crime and increase immigration enforcement, and this budget restates that position."
Whitmore says the county received about $7 million in federal funds under the program this fiscal year — less than in the past and a fraction of L.A. county's annual costs for jailing foreign-born inmates.
Previous attempts to slash the program, which was funded for $220 million in fiscal year 2013, have met with resistance from state lawmakers. But with the federal budget crunch, there’s a chance states and counties might have to do without this time.