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Fentanyl Crisis Leads Pennsylvania County To Terminate ‘Sanctuary’ Status

Holland McKinnie
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Butler County, Pennsylvania, recently terminated its immigration “sanctuary” status due to increased fentanyl overdoses and drug trafficking. This week, the county prison board voted unanimously to overturn the policy, which obstructed immigration enforcement, following an effort led by State Rep. Stephenie Scialabba (R). 

The county had previously been included in a list of places compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies that obstruct law enforcement by prohibiting local agencies from complying with ICE detainers, imposing unreasonable conditions on detainer acceptance, or impeding communication or information exchanges between their personnel and federal immigration officers.

The county’s prison will now send a list of inmates to ICE every week and grant the law enforcement agency access to the prison and its inmates, provided they have a warrant. The decision to end the sanctuary status has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from the community.

While Pennsylvania is not designated a sanctuary state, 16 counties and cities within the state have sanctuary status, including Philadelphia and Allegheny County. Officials in Butler County explained that the former designation created “heartache and angst” for residents who believed it did not represent the values of Butler county. 

The Center for Immigration Studies has removed Butler County from its website as a sanctuary following the policy change. The previous sanctuary status served as a “calling card for more crime,” Scialabba explained and did not reflect the county’s intentions or practices.

Scialabba noted that Butler County is a “county of security and law and order” and maintains that she encourages legal immigration. However, she pointed out that the surge in fentanyl deaths and overdoses, as well as drug and human trafficking, have led her to support the county’s decision to overturn the policy.

Scialabba emphasized that the county is a safe place to live and work and welcomes legal immigrants. However, she made it clear that those who commit crimes and come to the country illegally will be dealt with by ICE.


In 2021, the county saw 66 overdose deaths, with 57 of those linked to fentanyl. County District Attorney Richard Goldinger stated that “our crime is not just DUIs and retail theft anymore. We have drugs,” and that the drugs have not come from citizens of Butler County but are being brought in through illegal migration.