WASHINGTON, February 26 (RIA Novosti) - Illegal immigrants being held in detention facilities across the United States have started to be released in what is being called a cost-cutting move made necessary by mandatory federal budget cuts set to go into effect on Friday, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced Tuesday.
“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, according to The Washington Post.
“As a result of this review, a number of detained aliens have been released around the country and placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release,” she added.
Christensen did not say how many people had been released or how much money would be saved.
But with mandatory budget cuts still several days away, the release of illegal immigrants ahead of time was a startling move that underscores the sort of doomsday scenario the White House has laid out, including hundreds of thousands of jobs lost, deep cuts in defense, the closing of hundreds of air traffic control towers, and long lines at airport security checkpoints and at the nation’s ports.
The cuts – known as the sequester – were set up by US lawmakers in 2011 and were meant to be so devastating they would force Congressional negotiators and US President Barack Obama to decide on more reasonable cost-cutting measures by March 1, 2013.
Now, with no deal in sight, the first in a series of painful cuts totaling $1 trillion over the next decade is set to begin on Friday.
Janet Napolitano, who heads the US Department of Homeland Security which includes ICE, hinted about the release in a White House press briefing on Monday.
“All I can say is, look, 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?” she asked.
She also denied the Obama administration was engaged in scare tactics, as some Republicans have charged.
But that’s exactly how Mark Krikorian sees it. He’s the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit research organization that supports stricter immigration policies.
“They call this the fireman first strategy. When a municipal government is faced with cuts they don’t want to face, they threaten to lay off the firemen so your house will burn down. So the administration is saying because of the sequestration they’ll have to open the jails and let all the illegal aliens go,” Krikorian said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“The point is to pressure Congress to alter the sequester somehow, it’s the same thing as an admiral saying we’ll have to pull a carrier out of the Persian Gulf,” Krikorian said, adding, “An illegal immigrant who is liable to be deported is the very definition of a flight risk.”