Californians, Angelenos May Have to Dig Deeper to Pay for Undocumented Immigrants Housed in State Prisons and County Jails

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Fri, Feb 17, 2012 at 7:04 AM

  • ACLU of Southern California
The White House debuted its 2013 fiscal year budget Monday, and buried in the 250-page document is one line item could have big ramifications for L.A. County jails--the federal government slashed funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program by two-thirds compared to the previous year.

Ten years ago, the federal government was feeling generous--it disbursed $565 million to state and local agencies nationwide to offset the cost of incarcerating undocumented immigrants convicted or detained for a crime; back then, in 2002, L.A. County received a $34 million piece of that pie. In 2013, Los Angeles' slice will be much, much smaller: $2.53 million, according to county estimates, which means you, L.A. taxpayer, will be on the hook for making up the difference.

When the White House unveiled its budget on Monday, there was a measly $72 million allocated for the program to be divvied up among states and counties nationwide. Los Angeles, as the county that receives a larger share of the funding than any county in the country, stands to lose the most with the reduction.

Still, Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore was nonplussed by the announcement. He says program funding doesn't even come close to covering the total cost to the county of housing undocumented immigrants in its jails. "The government has, at the very best, given us 25%--it's been a long-standing challenge for the county of Los Angeles."

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there are 16,000 inmates on Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold in California prisons (meaning either they are here illegally or committed a deportation-worthy crime), and another 3,700 on "Potential ICE Hold," each of which costs the state $44,000 a year. That puts the cost to the state somewhere between $704 million and $849 million--and that figure doesn't begin to account for costs incurred by county jails, like those in Los Angeles.

In 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger (much to his aides' chagrin) floated the idea of building and operating prisons in Mexico to house illegal immigrants. He said doing so could save California $1 billion.

The White House began scaling back the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program in 2010. It allocated $324 million to the program that year, a number that dwindled to $272 million in 2011, and was further reduced to $240 million this fiscal year. $240 million, a fraction of the funding allocated in years past, was still $240 million more than the program was supposed to get, according to David Sommers, communications director for the LA County's Board of Supervisors.

This time last year, SCAAP was almost scrapped altogether, Sommers says--the White House's budget included no funding at all for the program. It was eventually brought back by aggressive campaign on Capitol Hill by lobbyists for LA County Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff's Department.

Which just goes to show, as Sommers says, "There is a long way to go between a proposed line item in a budget today and it being enacted." Paging L.A. County lobbyists...

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