Republicans in the House and Senate blasted the Obama administration Tuesday after reports surfaced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had quietly released hundreds of illegal immigrants from detention centers and into supervised release in advance of steep budget cuts.
House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., put out strongly worded statements accusing the administration of using the upcoming budget cuts to satisfy immigration advocates. The GOP lawmakers warned that releasing the detained immigrants could jeopardize the delicate House and Senate talks currently underway on a broad immigration overhaul.
“It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,” Goodlatte said. “It also undermines our efforts to come together with the administration and reform our nation’s immigration laws.”
Sessions said the move “further reduces the chances of reaching a bipartisan immigration accord.”
ICE Spokeswoman Gillian M. Christensen said the releases were in response to anticipated budget cuts, part of the $85 billion in across-the-board spending reductions known as the sequester, that are scheduled to hit on Friday.
“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,” she said in a statement Tuesday. “Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention.”
Releasing the detainees does not mean the agency has dropped its case against them, Christensen added, and they could still be deported. Under supervised release, people are required to check in with immigration authorities and can be forced to wear ankle bracelets.
It costs the government $164 per day to detain an undocumented immigrant, but at most $14 a day to maintain a person under supervised release, according to the National Immigration Forum.
Advocates contend that many detainees have not been convicted of a crime but are instead asylum seekers or repeat border crossers.
Sessions said ICE had ample time to prepare for the sequester and could have found cuts in areas such as facilities and equipment maintenance or travel budgets to achieve the required savings.
“The administration has further demonstrated that it has no commitment to enforcing the law and cannot be trusted to deliver on any future promises of enforcement,” Sessions said.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the Republicans are simply looking for an excuse to oppose an immigration overhaul.
“I don’t buy it,” he said. Releasing detainees “is part of the effect we’re going to have from all these budget cuts.”
“You can’t pick and choose in this sequestration,” Grijalva added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.