NCSL Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives on H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (SAFE Act)

National Conference of State Legislatures
The U.S. Conference of Mayors
National Association of Counties
National League of Cities

June 25, 2013

The Honorable John Boehner                                                 The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker                                                                                   Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives                                               U.S. House of Representatives
H-232 The Capitol                                                                    H-204 The Capitol
Washington, DC 20510                                                           Washington, DC 20510

RE: H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (SAFE Act)

Dear Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi:

As associations representing state and local government elected officials, we ask you to oppose H.R. 2278, the “Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act” (SAFE Act). This bill wrongly relieves the federal government of its mandate to enforce civil immigration laws and shifts both the responsibility and the cost of civil immigration enforcement to state and local governments. If passed, H.R. 2278 will burden states and localities with excessive costs, place new federal responsibilities on the shoulders of state and local law enforcement without the benefit of adequate training, and preempt state and local policies.

Strengthening enforcement of our nation’s borders is a key component of legislation that should comprehensively reform national immigration policy. Enforcement must be clear, balanced, predictable, non-discriminatory, fully funded and consistent. It must rely on an appropriate division of responsibilities based on historical enforcement activities and workloads.
Shifting the federal responsibility of enforcing civil immigration law to state and local governments, which the SAFE Act calls for, would divert critical resources from state and local law enforcement agencies and would compromise public safety. This shift also would hinder state and local law enforcement efforts to work with immigrant communities in preventing and solving crimes. Because of the complexities of immigration law, this legislation could also increase complaints of racial profiling, and expose governments to increased liability from the very communities that they serve. 
We have experienced the adverse impact of woefully underfunded federal criminal justice support aimed at assisting state and local governments, such as with the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).  Currently, the SAFE Act contains no clear appropriation for SCAAP. States and localities already are only reimbursed at the anemic rate of 18 cents for every dollar spent incarcerating criminal aliens. It is anticipated that if states must also incarcerate aliens for violations of federal civil immigration laws, that cost will rise even higher. While the SAFE Act contemplates that the Department of Homeland Security will provide grants to states and localities to offset the costs of enforcing federal immigration laws, in  this era of sequestration and dwindling federal resources to states, this seems unrealistic. Our associations are therefore appropriately concerned that the SAFE Act will not provide sufficient funds to implement new responsibilities given the current budget climate.    

Enforcement of federal immigration laws is a federal responsibility and should remain so with the exception of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) process, which gives states and localities the option to enter into a voluntary formal agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. When training under the MOU process is fully funded by the federal government, we view this as a viable way to give communities the choice of whether local enforcement of federal immigration laws is appropriate for them.      
We recognize the challenges facing our country in matters relating to immigration. It is critical that we address both the security and economic needs of states and communities while acknowledging our history as a nation of immigrants. We believe that immigration reform must be comprehensive in nature and requires an intergovernmental partnership because state and local governments share the burden of a broken immigration system.  We welcome the opportunity to continue working with you to achieve comprehensive immigration reform.

William T. Pound
Executive Director
National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)
Tom Cochran
CEO and Executive Director
The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM)
Matthew D. Chase
Executive Director
National Association of Counties (NACo)

Clarence Anthony
Executive Director
National League of Cities (NLC)