WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several hundred undocumented immigrants were released from federal detention centers this week in anticipation of federal budget cuts expected to go into effect tomorrow.
Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not dropping deportation proceedings against them, it was necessary to release the detainees “to ensure detention levels stay within ICE’s current budget,” according to press secretary Barbara Gonzalez.
“Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety,” she added.
“Though this is a move to cut costs and avoid furloughs and layoffs in the face of the pending sequester rather than the result of a shift in policy, the fact that people are being set free and reunited with friends and family provides cause to celebrate,” said Lorna Henkel, president of the board of trustees of IRATE & First Friends, a group that coordinates visitor programs and provides detainees with writing materials, books and other assistance at four of the seven New Jersey facilities holding immigrants suspected of immigration violations.
“Since Immigration Customs Enforcement is stating that those have been and will be released in an effort to cut costs pose no threat to the community, it has, in effect admitted that it has been wasting taxpayer dollars by needlessly incarcerating people,” Henkel added.
The sequestration budget cuts are scheduled to take effect on March 1, slashing more than $85 billion from the current fiscal year budget and $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. The automatic across-the-board cuts were agreed to during negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Few expect Democrats and Republicans in Congress to reach an agreement in time to prevent the cuts from taking effect. President Barack Obama has been calling on lawmakers to find a way to reduce the deficit through a mix of targeted spending cuts and elimination of tax loopholes, but Republicans have shown unwillingness to compromise.