County Supervisors Want Feds to Pay for Detainees

By City News Service

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday agreed to oppose a federal policy that ends reimbursements to local governments for the costs of jailing individuals whose immigration status is unknown.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe recommended the board send a letter to its Congressional delegation and President Barack Obama in opposition to the new policy, adopted in response to the president’s budget proposal.

The federal government has partially reimbursed the cost of jailing foreign-born inmates whose immigration status is unknown since 1996. But the Department of Justice now says it will reimburse costs only for inmates verified as illegal immigrants by the Department of Homeland Security.

“This decision will have a tremendous impact on the county,” Antonovich said. “The federal government has failed to secure the borders, yet forces counties to pay for the high cost of housing, food and medical care for illegals in the jails.”

Last year, Los Angeles County accounted for more than 8 percent of jailed and undocumented illegal immigrants nationwide and 4 percent of inmates whose immigration status was unknown, Antonovich said, citing a federal database.

He estimated 80 percent of the “unknown” inmates are illegal immigrants. But if they cannot be verified as illegal, the county has to foot the full bill for their incarceration.

Antonovich said the Department of Homeland Security had not assigned enough Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to county jails and that inmates were often released from custody without being screened by ICE.

DHS has implemented programs to help state and local governments verify inmates’ status, including the Secure Communities Program, which checks arrestees’ fingerprints against DHS records.

The county was reimbursed $9.9 million for foreign-born inmates last year, down significantly from the $14 million paid out in 2010. Antonovich estimated the county’s cost for such inmates at about $70 million.

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June 14, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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