Republicans from Speaker Boehner (R-OH) on down are accusing the White House of threatening the public’s safety by freeing hundreds of dangerous criminals detained by immigration authorities. But according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the claim is untrue.
ICE officials announced on Monday that because of budget cuts associated with the sequester, they were freeing several hundred individuals detained on immigration charges who they could no longer afford to house. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said earlier this week that cuts to detainee capacity and other immigration enforcement measures were based on simple budget math, not any political strategy from above. But many Republicans suggested the White House was behind the release as a means to frighten Americans about the effects of sequestration — and even putting public safety at risk.
“It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a statement on Tuesday. “By releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the Administration is needlessly endangering American lives.”
Boehner, who called the move by ICE “outrageous,” used similar rhetoric in describing the freed detainees.
“I’m looking for more facts,” Boehner told CBS News, “but I can’t believe that they can’t find the kind of savings they need out of that department short of letting criminals go free.”
ICE, however, is pushing back against the notion it is “endangering American lives” by releasing “criminal” detainees, saying it took steps to avoid releasing anyone who would pose a threat. In addition, the immigration proceedings against them will still continue.
“The detainees who’ve been released can be characterized as non-criminals and other low risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories that would subject them to mandatory detention,” spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez told TPM on Wednesday. “Detainees with serious criminal histories are a detention priority and have not been released.”
The agency receives funding to maintain 34,000 beds for detainees. While the White House says it prioritizes catching criminals over rounding up law-abiding undocumented immigrants, only 55 percent of individuals who were deported in 2012 were actually convicted of a crime.
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.