Lawmaker to Feds: Reimburse California for Illegal Immigrants

An Inland Empire lawmaker who says California cannot afford the expense of imprisoning illegal immigrant criminals introduced a resolution today calling on Congress and the president to restore funding to a program in which states are reimbursed for incarcerating them.

"California continues to be shortchanged by the federal government when it comes to picking up the tab for illegal immigrants in our prisons," said Sen. John J. Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes.

"Unless we act decisively to claim what's rightfully ours, our state's finances will continue to hemorrhage by the hundreds of millions each year to this federal obligation," he said.

Senate Joint Resolution 12 calls on Congress to maintain funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, through which states receive federal compensation for keeping illegal immigrants convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in prison and jail, respectively.

Under federal law, the U.S. Attorney General can either take an undocumented convict into federal custody, or arrange for reimbursements to a state to offset the expense to that state of incarcerating the alien prisoner.

The average annual cost to house an inmate in California is $35,587. According to Benoit's office, illegal immigrants comprise 15 percent -- roughly 26,000 inmates -- of the state's prison population.

The cost of housing those prisoners is expected to total $970 million in the current fiscal year -- up 46 percent compared to three years ago, according to Benoit's office.

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Under SCAAP, the state received about a 12 percent reimbursement from the federal government for the 2007-08 fiscal year, leaving California taxpayers to foot the balance of the bill, according to Benoit.

President Obama's 2010 budget blueprint, which Congress has tentatively approved, includes eliminating funding for SCAAP altogether, in favor of an increase in funding for border security.

Peter Orszag, director of the federal Office of Management & Budget, has said de-funding SCAAP would allow the federal government to devote more resources to "reducing unauthorized immigration in the first place."

In addition to California, representatives from Arizona and Colorado have protested the move to eliminate SCAAP.

Another measure proposed by Benoit, SB 125, calls on the California Attorney General to bill the federal government annually for all costs incurred housing illegal immigrant prisoners.

The legislation, which has stalled in the Senate Public Safety Committee, would also support legal action against the federal government for failure to fully reimburse the state.
 

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