U.S. funding for jailing illegal immigrants falls far short of costs

The $90 million California is expected to receive from the federal government this year for jailing illegal immigrants convicted of crimes is far short of the state’s roughly $1 billion annual cost, officials said.

“The federal government has sole control over the nation’s borders. The states do not,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state’s finance department. “The incarceration costs associated are borne disproportionally by states like California.”

Los Angeles County officials have not projected how much in reimbursement funds they could receive this year.

But in 2009, the county received $15.4 million in federal money, officials said. That is a fraction of the $100 million it spends on average to jail illegal immigrants.


“The federal government reimburses us literally pennies on the dollar what it costs us,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Mark McCorkle said

The state -- which houses 19,000 illegal immigrants in its prisons and jails -- receives the federal money through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP. Obama’s proposed budget plan sets aside $330 million for the incarceration program, down from $400 million last year.

But with California struggling to balance its budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is continuing to fight for additional funding, Palmer said.

Last year, Sheriff Lee Baca wrote a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging an increase in funding for the program.

“Because SCAAP reimburses previously incurred undocumented criminal alien incarceration costs, every dollar of incarceration costs not reimbursed by SCAAP adds a dollar to state and local budget shortfalls that must be offset by reductions in other essential services,” Baca wrote.

Although the county does not know exactly how many undocumented immigrants are in its jails, McCorkle said about 3,300 inmates identify themselves as foreign-born.

Officials from states greatly affected by illegal immigration long have argued that their taxpayers should not have to bear the burden for Washington’s failure to control the border.