Republicans smell a conspiracy after immigration officials announced they would release scores of undocumented detainees because of looming sequestration cuts — even if they haven’t reached consensus on the motive behind the plot yet.
The Department of Homeland Security is facing a 5 percent reduction in funding if scheduled cuts approved by Congress go into effect this week. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday they had “reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention” in anticipation of their reduced resources, according to spokeswoman Barbara Gonzales. Proceedings against them would continue after their release from federal detention.
But Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-OH), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering immigration reform, condemned the move Tuesday as a manufactured scare tactic.
“It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,” Goodlatte said in a statement. “By releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the Administration is needlessly endangering American lives. It also undermines our efforts to come together with the Administration and reform our nation’s immigration laws. Unfortunately, this Administration has a poor record of enforcing our immigration laws and has routinely sought to undermine them.”
In contrast to Goodlatte’s claim of “criminal” immigrants “endangering American lives,” ICE indicated to TPM earlier in the day that officials were taking such factors into account in deciding who to release. “Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety,” Gonzalez said in an e-mail. Some 55 percent of individuals deported by ICE in 2012 were convicted criminals, according to the agency’s official records.
Goodlatte wasn’t the only one raising the specter of a plot by the White House. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a leading critic of comprehensive immigration reform, had his own theory on the ICE announcement, suggesting in a statement that it was a sop to immigrant rights groups who have long complained about the record high number of deportations under the Obama administration.
“The Administration is using the sequester as a convenient excuse to bow to political pressure from the amnesty groups, as it did with its unilateral decision to confer legal status on millions who are not lawfully present,” Sessions said, adding that the ICE cuts “could be much more safely and rationally achieved” through other means.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) noted the ICE announcement on his Twitter feed with some skepticism as well.
“Was this really the only way to save money?” he wrote.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.