Illegal immigrants are being released from US detention facilities ahead of looming federal budget cuts that would slash funding for the removal and detention of illegal aliens.
In an attempt to save money ahead of the automatic budget cuts, which are scheduled to take effect Friday, the detainees are being released in the US – even though they are facing the prospect of deportation.
For several days, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been opening their doors, sending off “low priority” detainees with little more than ankle bracelets and parole.
“All I can say is look, we’re doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a press briefing Monday. “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?”
The average daily cost of detaining an immigrant is $122 to $164 per detainee, the American Civil Liberties Union reports. In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detained 429,000 immigrants, which is more than twice as much as the 202,000 that were detained in 2002. The National Immigration Forum estimates that it would cost the federal government only 30 cents to $14 per day to monitor a detainee on supervised release.
Illegal immigrants are often kept in prison-like conditions, with many of them reporting poor sanitation conditions, lack of medical services, and abusive treatment by detention personnel. Still, the government shovels out billions of dollars each year to house inmates using its 34,000 beds – money that could be saved if less immigrants were kept behind bars.
Earlier this month, DHS proposed a $5.65 billion budget for ICE. But the sequester has forced the agency to find alternate ways to keep track of illegals.
“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,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.
Christensen also confirmed that illegal immigrations are continuing to be deported at record levels and that cases against them will continue, even if they have been temporarily released. ICE claims that the Obama administration has expelled more immigrants than ever before and that the release of low-priority immigrants will only allow the agency to better focus on high-level offenders.
While advocacy groups largely applauded the decision to release low-priority illegal immigrants, they also expressed disappointment in the fact that it took looming budget cuts to force ICE to do so.
“The people being released today are people ICE could have released months – or in some cases, years – ago,” Mohammad Abdollahi, member of the Dreamer-led National Immigrant Youth Alliance, told the Huffington Post.
“It shouldn’t take a manufactured crisis in Washington to prompt our immigration agencies to actually take steps towards using government resources wisely or keeping families together,” Carolina Canizales of United We Dream told the New York Times.
But some opponents of the administration’s initiatives have condemned ICE for releasing illegal immigrants, concerned that the move is a political one made in support of letting more immigrants stay in the country.
One Republican aide who reviewed the DHS budget told the Washington Times than only about 5 percent of the ICE budget would be cut by the sequester and that savings could come from a cut in maintenance funds instead of releasing detainees.
“It is ludicrous for the administration to assert that the immediate release of thousands of already-apprehended illegal aliens and fugitives is the way to meet this target,” the aide said. “Clearly this is a political decision – not a financial one.”
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