LANSING — Michigan communities that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration officials could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars under a proposed Department of Corrections budget recommended by the Republian-led Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday.
The budget proposal would stop certain state payments to local jails that house convicted felons if those communities have policies prohibiting “communicating or cooperating” with federal immigration authorities.
The move isn’t likely to save the state any money — the bill for housing felons would shift from local jails to the Department of Corrections. County jails in Kent, Kalamazoo and Washtenaw counties would instead likely lose money because of policies that are not fully cooperative with federal immigration officials.
Under a 2011 program, the state reimburses local law enforcement for housing felons in local jails rather than sending them to state prisons; the Senate-proposed budget would not pay back so-called “sanctuary cities” for their cost to house felons locally.
“I think it’s an important standard that we uphold that we want all facets of law enforcement to work collaboratively and cooperate together with one another, and this is a good motivator for them to do that,” said Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, on Wednesday.
Chris Gautz, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said the agency opposes the new language. If funding is withheld from “sanctuary cities” and counties, those areas will likely decide instead to send more felons (regardless of immigration status) to state prisons instead, which would require the department to reopen closed housing units and spend more money on overtime staffing, he said. Only 20 percent of felons are currently sent to state prisons and are primarily housed locally.
Those felons sent to state facilities “otherwise could have served time in their county jail, been closer to their community and not have to carry the stigma of having served time in prison which we know can make it harder to find employment upon release,” Gautz said.
“Allowing them to serve these sentences in their county jail is a far better solution for everyone involved, not just the individual sentenced but the taxpayers of that county and of the state.”
The change would have the largest impact on Kent County, Gautz said, which currently receives $1.1 million under the reimbursement program. Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young announced earlier this year that the county would not detain immigrants for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency without a warrant after local law enforcement handed over to federal immigration authorities a U.S. citizen and Marine veteran, Jilmar Ramos-Gomez.
The Department of Corrections did not bring these concerns to the Senate subcommittee, Barrett said, “but ultimately we write the laws and they execute the laws.” Barrett added that the change is not directed at any specific community.
Gautz said the budget change could also affect counties such as Kalamazoo and Washtenaw in the future, which receive $975,000 and $250,000 from the program respectively.
“We’ll just have to explore (the issue of counties turning felons over to the state) but as a matter of a good course of practice we ought to have law enforcement working collaboratively together,” Barrett said.
Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, offered an amendment to the bill that would have eliminated the “sanctuary city” language, but it failed 12-6 along party lines. Hollier said the DOC budget is not the appropriate place for such a proposal.
“This is a political statement more than a policy action,” Hollier said. “The courts would be hard-pressed to support something like this.”
The move is the latest policy proposal to impact areas that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials; a House committee passed a bill that would similarly bar policies preventing cooperation with ICE, though it has not yet received a vote in a second House committee.
The Senate budget for the Department of Corrections passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday morning 12-6 along party lines. Some House budget proposals are being voted on in committee this week.
Once both chambers have full budget proposals complete, they will negotiate a joint budget through a conference committee to send to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has the power to line-item veto specific elements of the budget. Overriding a veto would require a two-thirds vote by each chamber of the state legislature.