Cities Could Lose Justice Funding Under House Immigration Bill
By Ed Somers and Michael Green, USCM Intern
February 20, 2006
Included in the immigration reform bill approved by the House of Representatives in late 2005 are several provisions that could result in cities losing funding from the Department of Justice.
During floor action on H.R. 4437, “The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005,” Representative John Campbell (CA) got approval for an amendment that prohibits the Attorney General from providing any grant funding to states or local governments that maintain policies or laws prohibiting the sharing of an alien’s immigration status with the Department of Homeland Security.
While the Campbell Amendment does not require localities to report illegal immigrants, they cannot prohibit by regulation or policy their employees from disclosing the immigration status of persons to DHS.
The Campbell Amendment means that a city or county with a privacy law or regulation that limits or restricts employees sending information relating to an individual’s immigration status would not receive Department of Justice federal grants. All employees would be covered by the amendment, not just police.
Also contained in the House bill is a provision that would revoke funding under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) where a state or city has a law or policy that prohibits law enforcement officers from assisting or cooperating with federal immigration law enforcement in the course of the officer’s routine duties. SCAAP provides federal reimbursements to states and local governments for the costs of incarcerating illegal aliens convicted of one felony or two misdemeanor offenses, and to expedite the transfer of custody for certain deportable aliens.
There is concern that this provision would create a “backdoor mandate” by forcing local governments to either deputize law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration law or lose federal funding.
In 2004, the Conference of Mayors adopted policy opposing similar provisions. The resolution states opposition to “additional unfunded federal mandates, our opposition to distracting local and state law enforcement from their primary mission, and our concerns about potential undermining of previous federal legislation that protects immigrant victims.” As of June 2004, there were over 56 known ordinances, police directives, resolutions, and policies across the nation designed to protect immigrants’ access to police protection and limit the immigration enforcement activities of police.
The Conference of Mayors resolution also stated concern that similar provisions “will lead to the misapplication of complex and technical immigration laws because local police will not be guaranteed (to have received) the seventeen weeks of immigration law training required of federal (immigration) enforcement agents… and would undermine community policing and create an atmosphere where immigrants begin to see local police as federal immigration enforcement agents with the power to deport them or their family members, making them less likely to approach local law enforcement with information on crimes or suspicious activity.”
The U.S. Senate has not yet acted on overarching immigration legislation, and it is unclear if and how these provisions will be addressed in Senate legislative language.