Scores of undocumented immigrants are being released from federal detention facilities thanks to looming sequester cuts expected to go into effect at the end of the week.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has “reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention,” a spokeswoman for ICE, Barbara Gonzales, told TPM. According to a report in the Tucson Daily Star, more than 100 detainees had already been let go from Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center alone.
“In order to make the best use of our limited detention resources in the current fiscal climate and to manage our detention population under current congressionally mandated levels, ICE has directed field offices to review the detained population to ensure it is in line with available funding,” Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, told reporters Monday in a written statement. She added that those affected would receive an “appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release” and their cases would still be processed.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters at a White House briefing earlier the same day that sequester cuts would leave ICE unable to maintain its current detention capacity.
“I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration,” she said. “How do I pay for those?”
In addition to fewer resources for detaining undocumented immigrants, Napolitano warned of the impact on border security from the coming 5 percent cut to DHS funding.
“If you have 5,000 fewer border patrol agents, you have 5,000 fewer border patrol agents,” Napolitano said. “That has a real impact.”
United We Dream, an immigrant rights group that’s criticized ICE for what it considers an overly aggressive detention and deportation policy, suggested the release was an admission that many of its detainees were not dangerous and thus held unnecessarily. The administration has defended its record numbers of deportations in part by emphasizing their focus on removing criminals instead of law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
“Low-priority individuals—people who pose absolutely no risk or danger to society, but rather are upstanding members of their communities and families—should not have been locked up to begin with,” Carolina Canizales, a coordinator for the group, said in a statement. “These men and women and the families I work with every day still face the threat of deportation and are not truly free.”
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.