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DHS releasing illegal immigrants before sequester

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By ALICIA A. CALDWELL
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - A week before mandatory budget cuts go into effect across the government, the Department of Homeland Security has started releasing illegal immigrants being held in immigration jails across the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday.

Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said ICE has reviewed "several hundred cases" of immigrants being held in jails around the country and released them in the last week. They have been "placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release," she said.

Christensen said the agency's "priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety." She did not say how released immigrants were selected or what jails they were released from.

Tuesday's announcement of jail releases is the first tangible impact of the looming budget cuts for DHS.

The Obama administration has been issuing dire warnings about the impact of the sequestration and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters at the White House Monday that across-the-board cuts would impact the department's core operations, including border security and airport screening operations.

She also warned that DHS might not be able to afford to keep the 34,000 immigration jail beds mandated by Congress.

"I don't think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester," said Napolitano, adding that the impact would be "'like a rolling ball. It will keep growing."

According to the National Immigration Forum, it costs the government about $164 a day to keep an illegal immigrant facing deportation jailed. In a report on immigration detention costs last year the advocacy group said costs for supervised release can range from about 30 cents to $14 a day.

The administration asked for about $1.96 billion for immigration jail operations in the last budget. It amounts to about $5.4 million a day, according to the National Immigration Forum's report.

Christensen said Tuesday that released immigrants will still face deportation proceedings.


 

Statement by Governor Jan Brewer

I'm appalled to learn the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to release hundreds of illegal aliens from custody, the first of potentially thousands to soon be freed under the guise of federal budget cuts. This is pure political posturing and the height of absurdity given that the releases are being granted before the federal 'sequestration' cuts have even gone into effect.

This represents a return to exactly the kind of catch-and-release procedures that have long made a mockery of our country's immigration system. The news is especially concerning when coupled with DHS' acknowledgment today that it may not be able to maintain operation of 34,000 immigration jail beds, as mandated by Congress.

Everyone knows the federal government must get a handle on spending, and it is well past time that the President begin working with Congress to find real budget solutions. But we cannot let public safety and the rule of law be collateral damage of the President's failed leadership to pass a budget.

Statement by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu

Clearly, serious criminals are being released to the streets of our local communities by this mass budget pardon. These are illegals that even President Obama wants to deport. This is insane that public safety is sacrificed when it should be the budget priority that's safeguarded.

ICE agents were paid overtime Saturday and Sunday to release over 500 detainees in Pinal County alone. These criminal illegals were scheduled for deportation, yet now they receive a pardon and once again become the problem of local law enforcement and a burden to the state of Arizona. The President predicts a doomsday scenario and his plans are already being implemented. President Obama would never release 500 criminal illegals to the streets of his home town, yet he has no problem with releasing them in Arizona. The safety of the public is threatened and the rule of law discarded as a political tactic in this Sequester Battle.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press modified.

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