Cornyn Backs Legislation To Increase Federal Reimbursements For Incarcerating Criminal Aliens

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, ranking member of the Immigration and Border Security subcommittee, has signed on as an original co-sponsor of two new bipartisan bills to ensure states and localities are fully reimbursed in a timely manner for costs of incarcerating criminal aliens.

The legislation strengthens the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which reimburses states and counties for the unfunded mandate of detaining illegal immigrants arrested in connection with crimes other than immigration violations. The bills also expand the types of services covered to include not only detention of convicted criminal aliens but also those charged with a crime.

"Border law enforcement officials and Texas taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a job the federal government is failing to do," said Sen. Cornyn, a longtime-advocate of increasing SCAAP funding. "This legislation will expedite the reimbursement process and expand the types of services eligible for reimbursement. It will help eliminate this unfunded mandate and make our communities safer."

The two bills were introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and co-sponsored by 11 Senators, in addition to Sen. Cornyn, including U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

  • The SCAAP Reimbursement Protection Act of 2008 would require the Justice Department to reimburse states and localities for the costs of incarcerating aliens either charged with, or convicted of, one felony or two misdemeanors. Since 2003 the Justice Department has reimbursed only for the costs of incarcerating convicted aliens.
  • The Ensure Timely SCAAP Reimbursement Act would require the Justice Department to make timely reimbursement payments to state and local governments. This legislation would require reimbursement within 120 days of the application deadline.

"We must continue working to improve border security and implement broader immigration reforms," Sen. Cornyn added. "In the meantime, this legislation takes important steps toward a solution, particularly for border communities."

The lack of timely reimbursement has posed a problem for states. For example, some counties recently waited nearly two years before they were reimbursed for expenses they incurred in 2005.

In addition, due to a reinterpretation of the statute, the Justice Department only reimburses states and counties for the costs of housing convicted criminal aliens. It does not reimburse states for housing undocumented aliens who have been charged with a crime.

This new legislation would restore SCAAP to Congress's original intent to ensure that states and localities could be reimbursed for the costs of incarcerating aliens who are either charged with or convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors.

Similar legislation was introduced in the U.S. House last year. It passed the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, HR 1512, on October 26, 2007.

In 2005, Sen. Cornyn was an original co-sponsor of the SCAAP Reauthorization Act of 2005, which he helped pass in the Senate in May, 2005.  In 2003, Sen. Cornyn co-sponsored a similar bill which would provide funding to cover the costs of federally mandated emergency health care for undocumented immigrants.

SCAAP is administered through the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, and provides federal reimbursement to states and localities that incurred costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens who have at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law, and are incarcerated for at least four consecutive days during the reporting period.

Cathryn Khalil, reporting.