Barletta raps immigrant inmate costs

By Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@civitasmedia.com

March 19, 2014

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is backing Luzerne County’s argument that county taxpayers should not foot the prison bill for undocumented immigrants charged with crimes.

The county spent an estimated $1.7 million housing 184 undocumented prison inmates in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The county received $130,081 in federal funding to offset supervision costs but nothing toward lodging, food or medical care, county officials said.

Federal officials have discussed cutting this funding, which is provided through the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP.

Council members are considering a formal request urging federal officials to continue and increase the funding.

Barletta, R-Hazleton, raised the issue during recent questioning of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, according to a news release.

The congressman asserted the federal government’s failure to enforce immigration laws is placing a financial burden on local governments that must fund prisons.

“This is a problem that was caused by the federal government,” Barletta said. “It was caused by the federal government by not securing our borders. It was caused by the federal government by not enforcing our immigration laws. And now we expect the local taxpayers to pay for it.”

Barletta also criticized President Barack Obama’s proposed budget, which would eliminate funding for SCAAP, the release said.

Johnson gave a “vague” indication that funding for locally incarcerating illegal immigrants might be found elsewhere, though he could not say exactly where, the release said.

Barletta, a former Hazleton mayor, said the county and other cash-strapped local governments could use the money spent on jailed illegal immigrants for other programs.

“That won’t educate one child. It won’t fix one pothole. It won’t pick up one person’s trash,” he said.

The release says Barletta will attempt to restore and increase SCAAP funding through the appropriations process in the House of Representatives.

County Councilman Stephen A. Urban raised the issue as chair of council’s correctional services committee.

The county prison spends roughly $110 per inmate per day, and the 184 inmates were lodged there a combined 15,655 days during the fiscal year, county officials said.