The Obama administration isn’t the first to call for the scrapping of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. President Bush eliminated the program in recent budgets, but the Democratic Congress kept reasserting it. Although the program only compensates states and local governments for a portion of their expenses, SCAAP in 2009 constituted a $400 million federal expenditure.
It’s high likely that the Democrats will again champion the program and defy the administration. The Office of Management and Budget included SCAAP among its recommended budget cuts, justifying the cut, at least partially, on the grounds that the program’s funding “"can be better used to enhance Federal enforcement efforts."
That’s not just rhetoric or political spin. In the weeks prior to the president’s decision to accept OMB’s cost-cutting measures, both the president and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano had announced a major “border security” and immigration enforcement initiative that Napolitano said represented the administration’s commitment to “smart and effective” enforcement. The combined funding to DHS and the Justice Department is estimated to reach $27 billion in 2010.
But congressional representatives from the leading state recipients of SCAAP dollars are in a huff about the federal government alleged relinquishment of responsibility for immigration enforcement. Leading the pro-SCAAP rebellion is Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), whose state is the top SCAAP state recipient ($118 million) and whose home city of San Francisco is one to the top SCAAP local government recipients ($837,000). The state and its counties received 40% of SCAAP funding in 2008. Feinstein says that the federal government will “deprive communities of critical funding for public safety services.”
Immigration is a total federal responsibility," argued Feinstein, whose home state of California holds roughly 32 percent of the nation’s illegal immigrants. "By failing to reimburse states and local governments for the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens, the federal government deprives communities of critical funding for public safety services... I am committed to restoring the funding for this essential program." Feinstein sits on the Senate appropriations panel with jurisdiction over SCAAP funding, and will be a powerful advocate for the program.
Among the array of House Democrats lining up to challenge the administration are most representatives of border counties, who, like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), makes the case that the “cost for incarcerating folks that are here illegally are borne directly by our counties. Some of these counties, like mine in southern Arizona, are among the poorest in the nation.”
What Democrats calling for federal reimbursement of the costs of holding undocumented immigrants accused of crimes aren’t saying is that border counties and border states have in the last eight years benefited from a multi-billion infusion of federal dollars in the form of fence construction (real and virtual), dramatic increases in Homeland Security (ICE and CBP) personnel and infrastructure (ports of entry, checkpoints, district headquarters), and a proliferation of new prisons, USMS agents, and federal attorneys and judges who form part of the post-Sept 11 border security deployment.
Nor, of course, does Senator Feinstein in her criticism of the federal government for its failure to take responsibility for the immigration problem acknowledge that California has historically benefited (and depended on) from the large immigrant presence.
Obama – Right and Wrong
The Obama administration got it right when it decided to defund the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. It’s a complicated and wasteful federal assistance program that is part of a larger federal imperative to expand and fortify the country’s criminal justice system – one that has asserted issues of crime and justice into most aspects of U.S. life and made this country the world’s leading jailor. SCAAP was one of the first federal initiatives to bring the immigration issue into the nation’s vast criminal justice and prison complex.
But saving $400 million federal dollars and then at the same time committing our financially-challenged nation to still more criminal-justice responses to the immigration issue is wrong, albeit politically adept. The administration’s new border security budget and buildup takes the ideologically driven “enforcement first” agenda of the immigration restrictionists and the Bush administration and is attempting to institutionalize it as an enduring national policy.