Sanctuary Cities and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program: Two Things that Do Not Go Together

The Center for Immigration Studies recently released a report entitled Subsidizing Sanctuaries: The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which claims the federal government is giving State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) grant money to “sanctuary” cities. The problem with this argument is that the very fact these cities (San Francisco, Chicago, Arlington, VA) are receiving SCAAP money means that they are not providing sanctuary to immigrants. SCAAP money goes to localities to reimburse them for the costs of jailing immigrants.

According to the SCAAP website, in order to be eligible for SCAAP funding, the county or state must have incarcerated a criminal alien for “at least 4 consecutive days during the reporting period.” A “criminal alien” is defined, for the purposes of SCAAP, as a person in the country illegally who has been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors. The costs for inmates who do not meet these requirements are not reimbursed. SCAAP does not reimburse the full cost of incarcerating immigrants, and states and localities must spend their own money to cover incarceration costs.

So by definition, if these cities are getting SCAAP, they are detaining immigrants. That doesn’t sound like “sanctuary” to me. Immigrants in these cities are clearly being arrested, detained, convicted, and turned over to ICE.

“Sanctuary city” is not an accurate term for cities with community policing policies. More than 50 cities and states across the country have adopted policies that prevent police agencies from asking community residents who have not been arrested to prove their legal immigration status.

But these cities do not provide “sanctuary” to undocumented immigrants. Restrictionist groups like CIS want you to believe that they are “sanctuary cities” because the cities have attempted to opt-out of the Secure Communities program, even though opting-out seems less and less possible. More importantly, their police have the authority to arrest criminals regardless of immigration status. The police do, in fact, identify immigrant criminals and report them to DHS.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have determined that so-called “sanctuary cities” are complying with federal law and properly assisting immigration agents in identifying foreign-born criminals. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff testified, “I’m not aware of any city, although I may be wrong, that actually interferes with our ability to enforce the law.” A 2007 DOJ audit examining police-DHS cooperation concluded that, “Our review did not disclose any instances of outright failure to cooperate with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of DHS] in the removal of criminal aliens from the United States.”

Despite the clear facts, radio-show hosts, politicians, and immigration restrictionists still want you to believe that cities receiving SCAAP reimbursements are providing “sanctuary” to criminals. Maybe next they’ll try to convince you immigrants are responsible for global warming and teenage obesity—wait, been there, done that.

Photo by wallyg.

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