Immigration officials said yesterday that they have released hundreds of immigrants who had been detained and are still awaiting deportation proceedings, in order to reduce costs in advance of the expected round of spending cuts known as the sequester, which starts to take effect on Friday.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had warned two weeks ago that some immigrants awaiting deportation would be released in order to trim spending, and that such releases could pose risks.
“Under sequestration, ICE would be forced to reduce current detention and removal operations, potentially affecting public safety, and would not be able to maintain 34,000 detention beds,’’ Ms. Napolitano said in written testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Congress has mandated that ICE – the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement agency– maintain detention capacity for 34,000 people.
The decision to release some immigrants from detention shows the Obama administration has some degree of latitude in deciding how to implement the cuts.
Ms. Napolitano’s testimony indicated that, within the Department of Homeland Security, officials chose to reduce costs by releasing detained immigrants but made no mention of any plans to furlough ICE employees. Staff furloughs are a major component of cost reductions at other homeland security agencies, such as the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection agency.
Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said Tuesday that officials reviewed cases and released hundreds of people “on methods of supervision less costly than detention’’ as the agency continues to seek their removal from the United States. She said the agency is prioritizing its remaining detention spaces for “serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.’’