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Obama budget nixes aid for jailing illegal immigrants
By Ian Swanson and Walter Alarkon
Posted: 05/08/09 09:24 AM [ET]

President Obama voted in the Senate to provide additional funding for a program targeted for elimination by his budget that provides states a federal subsidy to offset the costs of jailing illegal immigrants.

Killing the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAPP) would save $400 million, according to Obama's budget for fiscal 2010 released Thursday. It's one of the largest non-defense discretionary cuts proposed in the president's budget.

The program is popular with border-state politicians on Capitol Hill, however, making its elimination a tough sell to lawmakers, particularly from California.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has repeatedly pushed for additional funding for the program, and lawmakers from other states that have costs associated with illegal aliens have also offered support.

A bipartisan trio of House members from California have drafted a letter urging the House Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies to restore funding for the SCAAP program. The three members, Reps. Mike Honda (D), Adam Schiff (D) and Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, are also asking the rest of the California House delegation to sign the letter, Honda's office said.

As an Illinois senator, Obama co-sponsored an amendment offered by then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), now Obama's secretary of state, that would have provided additional funding for the program. It also would have established a grant program to defray local government healthcare and education costs for non-citizens.

"Each year, the SCAAP program is underfunded," Clinton said in 2006 comments urging support for her amendment. She cited a 2005 Government Accountability Office study that found local governments get only 25 percent of their costs reimbursed through the program.

"Throughout our country and in my state, there are counties and municipalities that are covering the costs of dealing with education, healthcare, and law enforcement without adequate or any federal reimbursement," Clinton said. "So we have left our local and state governments to fend for themselves. They should not be left to bear these costs alone because it is not they who are making federal immigration policy."

Another Obama Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado, was also a co-sponsor.

Obama voted for the amendment, but it was defeated 43-52.

Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that has called for tougher border security, predicted it is "very unlikely" that Obama's proposal to cut the program will be accepted by Congress. He noted that the Bush administration repeatedly tried to zero out the program, but always ran into opposition in Congress.

"It's hard to justify getting rid of it honestly," Krikorian said. "It's a necessary program because the federal government is reimbursing states and localities for the federal government's own mistakes."

Krikorian, like Clinton in 2006, argued immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, and if state and local jails are incarcerating illegal immigrants, it is because of failed federal policies.

According to the fiscal 2010 budget, Obama's administration thinks resources used for the program could be better used to enhance federal efforts to curb illegal immigration.

"In place of SCAAP, the administration proposes a comprehensive border enforcement strategy that supports resources for a comprehensive approach to enforcement along the nation's borders that combines law enforcement and prosecutorial efforts to investigate arrest, detail, and prosecute illegal immigrants and other criminals," the budget states.

It emphasizes that the budget will provide funding for 20,000
Border Patrol agents, and $1.4 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement programs to support the quick identification and removal of illegal aliens who commit crimes in the U.S.

The Office of Management and Budget did not respond when contacted about this story.

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