CSAC Bulletin Article

Federal Issues Update
Justice Program Letters Circulating on Capitol Hill; Attorney General Discusses Sanctuary Jurisdictions

March 30, 2017

Today, Representatives Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Linda Sánchez (D-CA) began circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter asking their fellow House members to join them in writing to Appropriations Committee leaders in support of the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).  Gosar and Sánchez have led similar efforts in prior years, all of which have garnered the bipartisan backing of a large number of lawmakers.

CSAC is once again supporting the Gosar-Sánchez SCAAP request and has asked all members of the California congressional delegation to sign the correspondence to House appropriators.  The letter, once finalized, will be sent to committee leaders in advance of their work on the fiscal year 2018 budget.

On a related matter, and as reported above, President Trump has suggested a laundry list of current-year (FY17) program cuts and eliminations as a means to partially offset his supplemental spending request for defense and security operations.  As part of the proposed budget reductions, the president has recommended the elimination of the SCAAP program.  In response, CSAC – supported by key members of the California delegation – is working to retain funding for SCAAP as part of the ensuing fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill.

In addition to the Dear Colleague on SCAAP, similar letters to House appropriators on the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) are in the process of being finalized.  The VOCA letter, spearheaded by Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX), asks appropriators to set the program’s spending cap at $2.7 billion, or the same level of funding that was recommended by the House Appropriations Committee for the current fiscal year.  The VAWA letter – led by Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI), Judy Chu (D-CA), and others – requests full funding of $589 million for VAWA programs in fiscal year 2018.

Also this week, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced legislation that would reauthorize SCAAP at $950 million through fiscal year 2021.  In addition, the legislation would allow jurisdictions to be reimbursed for the costs of housing undocumented individuals who are accused of certain crimes – and not only convicted of such offenses, as is allowed for under current law.  The change would correct a long-standing flaw in federal statute that disadvantages county governments, which often spend a considerable amount of financial resources housing pretrial offenders who may not ultimately be convicted of the crimes for which they are accused. 

Additionally, the bill includes language – drafted by CSAC during the Senate’s consideration of immigration reform legislation in 2013 – that would require DOJ to compensate jurisdictions for the costs of incarcerating inmates who are determined to be of “unknown” immigration status.  Unknown inmates are classified as such because they have not had prior contact with federal immigration authorities and therefore are not included in the Department of Homeland Security database.  The intent of the language is to preclude DOJ from unilaterally instituting a policy that would eliminate payments for unknowns (which the agency attempted to do back in 2012; such a change would have reduced California’s counties’ SCAAP allocations by roughly 50 percent).

In other developments, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an appearance at the White House briefing room this week in which he reiterated the Trump administration’s pledge to crack down on so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions.”  During his brief remarks, the attorney general did not announce any new polices, but rather repeated previous vows to deny certain grant funds to states and localities that have adopted policies that run counter to existing federal law.

According to Sessions, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will require jurisdictions to certify compliance with 8 USC Section 1373 as a condition of receiving Departmental grant funds.  That particular section of federal law prohibits states and local governments from restricting the exchange of information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of an individual that is being held for a crime.

Incidentally, the policy direction articulated by Sessions is simply a reiteration of DOJ guidance that was first announced, although never enforced, under the Obama administration.  With regard to California’s counties, it appears as though most – if not all – counties are in compliance with Section 1373’s information-sharing requirements.

During his White House appearance, Sessions also referenced several high-profile cases in which undocumented individuals had perpetrated crimes after being released by jurisdictions that had chosen not to honor detainer requests that had been issued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  It should be noted that federal law does not require local governments to honor such requests.  In fact, when ICE submits to a local government an immigration hold that is not supported by a court order or warrant, the jurisdiction runs the risk of exposing itself to a lawsuit based on Fourth Amendment grounds, which protects all individuals against warrantless arrest.

Looking ahead, DOJ is expected to issue additional guidance on the specific enforcement measures that the Trump administration intends to take as it pertains to jurisdictions that it deems to be in noncompliance with federal law.

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