Mess with President Obama and he’ll unleash a horde of dangerous illegal aliens into your state as “payback.” At least that’s Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R) take, the latest in a growing body of GOP conspiracy theories surrounding the federal government’s decision to release hundreds of immigration detainees ahead of sequester cuts.
Brewer suggested on Fox News Friday that the move, which officials from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency say was a matter of simple budget math, was retaliation for the state’s law cracking down on undocumented immigrants, which has been a major flashpoint in the national immigration debate.
“Well, you know, I personally believe it could be payback,” Brewer said. “It could be to punish Arizona, to make them squirm. They’re pushing back on what we’re pushing on because we want our border secure and we’re strong about it.”
Asked whether Washington was “picking on you,” she replied: “I think it’s pretty obvious that they’re doing everything in their power.”
Both the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have denied any involvement in the decision to release the detainees, which they say was made by ICE independently in response to the sequester. Napolitano explicitly warned on Thursday, however, that the 5 percent cut to DHS’s budget that went into effect Friday will have an unavoidable impact on immigration enforcement, including the department’s ability to maintain its usual 34,000 detainee capacity.
Brewer’s theory of “payback” is hardly the first GOP allegation of foul play. A number of Republicans, such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), have suggested that the detainees were released unnecessarily in order to scare Americans about the effects of the sequester. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a leading critic of immigration reform, claimed the White House ordered ICE to release immigrants in order to appease Latino groups upset over the administration’s record high number of deportations. ICE has said that deportation proceedings against detainees will continue after their release.
Repeating another popular talking point on the right, Brewer said the move by ICE was especially dangerous because the detainees “are people that have a criminal background to begin with.” That’s not at all clear, however — a high proportion of detainees at any given moment have no arrest record whatsoever and ICE says that “priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.”
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.