Pennsylvania County Scraps Sanctuary Policy

By Jessica M. Vaughan on February 21, 2023

Determined to avoid protecting criminal aliens and attracting illegal immigration, the prison board of Butler County, Pa., voted unanimously to reverse policies that kept county prison officers from maximizing cooperation with ICE to remove deportable inmates.

On February 21, the prison board adopted a new policy directing the prison warden to provide a list of inmates to ICE on a weekly basis, to allow ICE officers to access the prison to interview inmates, to give ICE adequate notice of criminal alien releases and transfers, and to honor ICE detainers. The previous policy did not allow officers to comply with an ICE detainer. A detainer is a notice that ICE intends to take custody of an inmate due to probable cause that the inmate is subject to removal, and asks the agency to notify ICE of pending release and/or hold the alien for up to 48 hours.

The change in policy was initiated by Stephenie Scialabba, a state lawmaker who represents a district near Pittsburgh, and who was alerted to the policy by a constituent. Scialabba stated that the previous policy, which caused the county to be listed on the Center’s map of sanctuaries undermined security and law and order. “They come here, they think this is a safe place to commit crimes. And it is not,” Scialabba said.

One local news outlet pointed to strong support for reversing the policy:

County Commissioner Kim Geyer said the sanctuary designation "created a lot of heartache and angst" for residents who believed it didn't represent the values of Butler county.

Officials said they welcome and encourage legal immigration, but point to drug trafficking issues they are seeing.

"Our crime is not just DUIs and retail theft anymore. We have drugs," Richard Goldinger, the county district attorney, said. "Again, that stuff has not come from citizens that are making fentanyl in Butler County. It's being brought here."

The Center has identified about 300 jurisdictions in the country that have policies, ordinances, or in some cases state laws, that prohibit full cooperation with ICE. In contrast, some states, including Texas, Iowa, and Florida, have enacted laws to ban local sanctuary policies.

According to ICE records, thousands of criminal aliens who were released by sanctuary policies have gone on to commit subsequent crimes, creating an unnecessary public safety hazard. Even San Francisco is now considering modifying its sanctuary policy in order to address an association between the city’s fentanyl problem and drug trafficking by illegal aliens.

The Center can assist other state and local policy-makers interested in strengthening their policies on ICE cooperation. However, the diehard sanctuaries — such as Cook County, Ill., Philadelphia, and New York City — will never allow full and appropriate cooperation with ICE absent meaningful incentives and penalties implemented through changes to state or federal laws. Therefore, Congress and/or individual states should not only clarify that local jurisdictions may (or “must”, in the case of state laws) cooperate with ICE, but also cut off certain funding to jurisdictions that obstruct such cooperation.