But President Bush has repeatedly proposed to stop funding this program, and his latest budget will force counties like Lehigh and Northampton to bear these costs themselves. That's not going over too well with budget hawks like Commissioner Dean Browning.
"Our current budget is around $400 million. Three-quarters of that is pass through money. The rest is tax dollars. About sixty per cent of that goes to 'law and order' issues. That is one of the basic functions of Lehigh County government. ... If the Federal government is not going to live up to its responsibility and return these illegals to their country of origin, it is unfair to ask Lehigh County residents to pay to house them."
It might surprise Dean to learn that liberal Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says much the same thing. "It's not fair for local authorities to foot the bill for incarcerating undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes."
Browning persuaded all commissioners to adopt a resolution that "urges the Lehigh Valley Federal delegation to initiate efforts to reinstate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) and to expand that program to reimburse local facilities 100 percent of the costs of incarcerating illegal aliens, and to also include reimbursement for the cost of prosecution by local governments."
Commissioner Bill Leiner, a Democrat, stated he was "humbled" by the bipartisan support for this initiative. Chairman Percy Dougherty was quick to agree, but cautioned that "no one should misconstrue this as coming down hard on illegal aliens. This is another example in which the federal and state governments are shirking their responsibilities."
The Senate has approved a budget amendment that reinstates this funding, but a conference committee of both House and Senate will make the final decision.