President Barack Obama has asked Congress to end federal payments to states and communities for jailing illegal immigrants as he continues along a path toward legalization of undocumented aliens.
The budget plan Obama released on Thursday would end the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), under which states received $400 million in the current fiscal year to cover the cost of incarcerating convicts and pre-trial detainees who are illegally in the U.S.
Specifically, the SCAAP reimburses states and counties for jailer's salaries for holding illegal immigrants who are apprehended and found to have at least one felony and two misdemeanor convictions.
“The evidence suggests that the funds are often used in a variety of ways that are tangential to the direct cost associated with imprisoning unauthorized immigrants,” Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag told reporters.
A list of budget cuts asserted that money in the program “can be used for extraneous items and services such as bonuses, consultants, and purchase of vehicles.”
Politico's Josh Gerstein observed: "That may be so. However, the cost of keeping illegal aliens in jail is clearly higher than what the federal government pays. California is getting $118 million through the program this year, but estimates it spends about $1 billion on jailing 'undocumented persons.' So, wherever the federal funds are directed, they don’t come close to covering the costs."
Justice Department officials told reporters that the federal government wants to spend the money instead on new initiatives to secure the border with Mexico. But "those total about $232 million, so some of the alien-jail money is just being shifted away," Gerstein writes.
Ironically, Obama co-sponsored an amendment in the Senate to increase funding for the program. The amendment was defeated.
With states along the Mexican border hard pressed to balance their budgets, the federal cut would likely lead to reduced incarceration of illegal aliens.
Obama's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has in fact stated that illegal immigration is really not a crime, saying in a CNN interview in April that "crossing the border is not a crime per se."
However, a statue clearly stipulates that crossing the border without authorization is a crime.
The elimination of the SCAAP is the latest sign that the Obama administration is softening the approach to illegal immigrants already in the country.
The New York Times reported in early April that Obama would draft legislation this year allowing illegal immigrants to become legal citizens.
The Times cited U.S. officials as saying that "the Obama administration favors legislation that would bring illegal immigrants into the legal system by recognizing that they violated the law, and imposing fines and other penalties to fit the offense."
Obama said in an interview with Univision Radio that he is "very committed" to immigration reform, stating: "We're going to start by really trying to work on how to improve the current system so that people who want to be naturalized, who want to become citizens . . . that they are able to do it."
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, recently said he expected Senate hearings to lead to a major change in U.S. immigration policy this year.
As Newsmax reported earlier, Republicans fear that Obama and Congressional Democrats are pushing for amnesty for illegals to increase Democratic electoral chances. Studies show that new immigrants vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
But Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies told The Hill newspaper that it is "very unlikely" that Obama's plan to cut the SCAAP will be accepted by Congress.
One Republican and two Democratic congressmen from California have drafted a letter urging a House Appropriations subcommittee to restore funding for the SCAAP.
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