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Blaine County says sheriff can't accept reimbursement funds for jailing undocumented people

Hailey, Idaho
Flickr Creative Commons

The Blaine County Commissioners rejected a request from the county sheriff’s office to participate in a federal reimbursement program that covers some costs of incarcerating undocumented immigrants.

A few community members and immigrant rights advocates asked the commissioners to reject the funds in public comments during a meeting last week.

“The optics of the county taking federal money as a reimbursement for holding undocumented people does not look good for an organization that states that they care about the community,” said Blanca Romero Green, who works at The Hunger Coalition.

The program is called the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP, and under it states and counties can get reimbursed for some costs associated with incarcerating undocumented people who have committed crimes. They have to be jailed for more than four consecutive days and have been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors.

Thirteen counties in Idaho, plus the Idaho Department of Correction, participate, including Bonneville, Canyon and Twin Falls counties.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office decided to stop receiving SCAAP funds in 2020, according to reporting by the Idaho Press. It did so after a rule change was announced that would require local entities to submit, not just the names and dates of birth of an inmate to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but also their home addresses.

Blaine County has received the funds since 2001. But last week, the county commissioners voted against the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office's request to accept its fiscal year 2020 payment of about $14,600.

After about 20% of the sum is handed over to a third-party processor, the money can go toward salaries and overtime for corrections officers, training or construction costs.

During discussions about whether to accept the grant funds, county commissioners acknowledged they had broader concerns.

“I don’t know if my individual issue is with this particular grant,” said Commissioner Angenie McCleary. “It’s with the public, and even the commissioners, but particularly the public, not having a clear idea of what happens with the sheriff’s office.”

“Is our justice system equitable? Is racial profiling happening? If it is, how do we go about making some of those changes,” said Commissioner Muffy Davis.

Blaine County Sheriff Steve Harkins, who was not there for the discussion, said in a lengthy Facebook post afterward that he’s “appalled” by the commissioners’ statements, which he said undermine the work of his deputies who do not profile people based on their race and have worked hard to build trust in the community.

He, too, seemed to think the issue was larger than the SCAAP funds — he said the commissioners don’t like that his department cooperates with ICE.

“As the Sheriff of Blaine County, I do not feel it is in the best interest of our community to release serious offenders, who happen to be undocumented non-citizens, back into our community,” he wrote.

Harkins ended his statement by saying undocumented people in the community should feel comfortable calling law enforcement if they are victims of a crime.

The Blaine County Commissioners said they could re-evaluate applying for the SCAAP funds in the future.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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