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County ends sanctuary status

State Rep. Stephenie Scialabba addresses the media during a news conference in Butler on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Scialabba spearheaded an effort to remove Butler County from the Center for Immigration Studies' website listing as a Pennsylvania sanctuary city. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

The county prison board Tuesday, Feb. 21, adopted a policy that terminates the county’s status as a sanctuary county for illegal immigration.

The policy authorizes the Butler County Prison to accept detainers accompanied by arrest warrants from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for immigrants in the country illegally, and to provide a weekly list of inmates to ICE. An immigration detainer is a notice from ICE that it plans to assume custody of the person listed.

State Rep. Stephenie Scialabba, R-12th, who prepared the policy, outlined it to the board and then appeared at a news conference to discuss the policy with county commissioners and other county officials who serve on the board.

County officials said there are no immigrants in the country illegally currently being held at the jail.

The officials said they support legal immigration.

A sanctuary county or city is one that does not hold illegal immigrants in custody based on ICE detainers or refuses to allow ICE agents access to illegal immigrants in custody.

Scialabba told the prison board that the county is not a sanctuary county in practice, but is identified as one by the Center for Immigration Studies, which posts maps and lists of sanctuary cities, counties and states on its website.

State Rep. Stephenie Scialabba, R-12th, addresses the media during a news conference in the Butler County Government Center on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Scialabba spearheaded an effort to remove the county from the Center for Immigration Studies website which listed the county as a sanctuary county. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

She said the county’s label as a sanctuary county was a “calling card for more crime,” but she supports legal immigration.

“We encourage people to come here, but legally,” Scialabba said.

Leslie Osche, chairwoman of the board of county commissioners and vice chairwoman of the prison board, said the county approved a policy in 2017 to have the county removed from the CIS sanctuary list, but that policy did not accomplish the goal.

At the news conference, Scialabba said legal immigrants helped to build the country and county, but illegal immigrants can be involved in human and drug trafficking.

District Attorney Richard Goldinger, a prison board member, said approving the policy supports law and order, and is “not a decision of exclusion.”

Osche said the county welcomes immigrants who come to seek liberty, not those intent on doing harm.

Kevin Boozel, a county commissioner and prison board member, said the county’s inclusion on the sanctuary list caused heartache for county residents. He said the county always has supported law and order.

Kim Geyer, also a county commissioner and board member, said being on the sanctuary list does not represent the beliefs of county residents.

“We welcome people who want to come to this county to do good,” Scialabba said.

Goldinger said he couldn’t recall a specific case of an illegal immigrant trafficking drugs in the county.

He said illegal drugs that enter the county come through Philadelphia but originate in Mexico, and many of the drug dealers arrested in the county are from Philadelphia.

No one is making fentanyl in the county — it is brought to the county, he said.

Goldinger said illegal immigrants could have come to the county due to its sanctuary status, but there is no way to track their movements.

Until the adoption of the new policy, the county’s policy was based on a 2014 ruling by the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in the Ernesto Galarza case, officials said.

In that case, Galarza, a New Jersey-born U.S. citizen of Puerto Rican descent was held for three days in the Lehigh County Prison. ICE agents ordered his detention, believing he was an undocumented immigrant from the Dominican Republic.

The U.S. and the city of Allentown paid Galarza $50,000 to settle the claim he filed in a lawsuit, but a federal court dismissed his suit against the county. The court ruled that the county could not be held liable for violating his rights because it had no choice but to honor the ICE detainer.

The appeals court ruled that ICE detainers are only requests to detain someone, and that because local agencies are not required to comply with ICE detainers, they may be held liable for their role in causing an unlawful detention when there is no constitutional basis for the detainer.

As a result of that ruling, the county settled with Galarza for $95,000 and agreed to adopt a policy of no longer honoring ICE detainers without a court order.

CIS does not list Pennsylvania as a sanctuary state, but lists 17 counties as sanctuary counties. In Western Pennsylvania, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties are on the list. Butler County was on the list Tuesday morning, but was removed in the afternoon.

Butler County District Attorney Richard Goldinger speaks to the media at a news conference in Butler on Tuesday, Feb. 21. Goldinger worked with state Rep. Stephenie Scialabba, left, and members of the Butler County Prison Board and Butler County commissioners to remove the county from the Center for Immigration Studies' list of sanctuary cities. Cary Shaffer/Butler Eagle

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