After the Election, More Flexibility for Sanctuaries

By Jessica Vaughan, November 26, 2012

The Obama administration has quietly abandoned the pretense that it will try to deter local sanctuary policies that actively obstruct immigration law enforcement, such as an ordinance in Cook County, Ill., that orders the sheriff's officers to ignore holds placed by ICE on criminal aliens.

Remember earlier this year, when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton both vowed to Congress and the news media that they were going to be tough on local governments that prevented ICE agents from arresting criminal aliens? In the spring, Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the problem, agreeing that such policies were "unwise" and "misguided".

Morton sent a letter to Cook County, saying, "In addition to undermining local public safety, the Ordinance may also violate federal law" and that it "inhibits ICE's ability to validate Cook County's annual request for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) funding."

SCAAP is a federal program that awards funds to state and local governments for some of the cost of jailing illegal alien criminals. For years, many have called for the federal government to allow only cooperative governments to receive this funding. (See "Subsidizing Sanctuaries".)

In July, Morton suggested in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee that he would move to cut off funding if Cook County did not change its policies.

Later this summer, Morton claimed that California's SCAAP funding would be in jeopardy if it implemented a bill passed by the California legislature to restrict sheriffs from cooperating with ICE. The bill, known as the TRUST Act, was vetoed by the governor, but proponents have vowed to try again in 2013.

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As it turns out — surprise! — Morton and Napolitano have just been blowing smoke. The Department of Justice, which administers the SCAAP grants, actually issued new rules for the SCAAP program this year that would have reduced funding for Cook County and others who shield criminal aliens. The new policy was written to be very much a wet noodle sanction and it would have affected cooperative as well as non-cooperative counties, but it was better than nothing and represented the first attempt to address this problem. I calculate that Cook County could have lost as much as 90 percent of its SCAAP funding under the new rule.

Yesterday, I happened to visit the SCAAP Program website, and saw an announcement that the new rules have been postponed, supposedly for a year. It seems that after the election the Obama administration sees no reason to continue pretending it is serious about immigration law enforcement.