NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 31, 2006

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), in place since 1994, is designed to reimburse states and counties for jailing illegal immigrants. But the reimbursements have shrunk so much that some officials have resorted to suing or threatening to sue the U.S. Justice Department, says Kevin Mooney of

  • In Colorado, state lawmakers estimate that it costs $40 million a year to house more than 1,000 inmates from other countries.
  • In Los Angeles County, which has one of the nation's highest concentrations of illegal immigrants, officials have been reimbursed on average about 30 percent of the amount they believe they should have received from the SCAAP program.
  • Washington State says it is owed $50 million by the federal government for incarcerating illegal immigrants in Fiscal Years 2005 and 2006.

The funding formula used for SCAAP, as it is explained on the Department of Justice Web site, is based on two primary factors:

  • The annual salary costs for corrections officers who detain undocumented criminal aliens.
  • The total number of all inmate days; only criminal aliens who have at least two misdemeanors or one felony qualify.

In 2003, a requirement was changed to reimburse states only the cost for incarcerating criminal aliens for at least four days, up from three, resulting in a 26 percent drop in the number of qualifying inmates for SCAAP reimbursements.

But if there is a silver lining for states, says Mooney, it is the obscure Section 287(g) of the 1996 Immigration and Nationality Act, which has produced several federal-state partnerships.  Some of the more recent agreements have allowed states, in exchange for performing certain federal tasks, to shift its criminal alien population to federal prisons after the inmates have served half of their sentences.

Source: Kevin Mooney, "Locking Up Illegal Aliens a Costly Proposition for States,", July 31, 2006


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