Just a week before the fiscal cliff stalemate causes mandatory budget cuts to go into effect, the Department of Homeland Security has started releasing hundreds illegal immigrants from detention citing impending budget cuts.
On Tuesday, Gillian M. Christensen, the spokeswoman of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, issued a statement observing, “As fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration, ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE’s current budget.”
Republican lawmakers criticized the actions heavily, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte commenting, “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.”
Christensen said, “several hundred cases” of immigrants have been reviewed by the ICE and people released “placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release.” Christensen also added that the agency’s “priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.”
She confirmed that the released illegal immigrants would still face deportation proceedings.
However, Christensen also warned, “I don’t think we can maintain the same level of security at all places around the country with sequester as without sequester” and the releases of detainees and its impact would be “like a rolling ball. It will keep growing.”
Numbers about how many detainees have been released by Homeland Security across the country is being debated without any absolute confirmation by the ICE.
For instance, while ICE maintains only 303 detainees have been released from four Arizona facilities, FoxNews reports Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu saying on Tuesday that the ICE has released more than 500 detainees only in his county over the weekend.
Faced with questions, the ICE spokeswoman said, “We’re doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester. But there’s only so much I can do … I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration. How do I pay for those?”
According to a report of the National Immigration Forum it costs about $164 a day for the government to keep an illegal immigrant facing deportation in jail, while the costs of supervised release can range from 30 cents to $14 per day.