A new internal US Immigration and Customs Enforcement document that the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee retrieved and then released to the public earlier this week has added another layer to the conflicting set of stories coming out of the Obama White House as to exactly why it released thousands of illegal immigrants from ICE jails on the eve of sequester.
According to this document, the detainees released from ICE facilities beginning at the end of February are part of a larger plan to release thousands of prisoners so that ICE facilities would only be operating at about 70% full capacity. ICE has just more than 34,000 beds that it operates.
Starting shortly after February 15, 2013, media reported that a few hundred and then a few thousand prisoners had been released from ICE prisons, and the initial explanation was that these detainees were being released due to budget cuts related to sequester.
At any given time, there are roughly three hundred thousand individuals with a case in federal immigration courts. ICE facilities can only hold about one in nine people in the system as it is.
When asked to explain why ICE facilities would operate at 70% effectiveness because of 2.4% worth of cuts, Gillian Christenson, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security’s Media Relations team in Washington, D.C., blamed across-the-board spending cuts in the sequester:
As fiscal uncertainty remained over the continuing resolution, and with the strong possibility of sequestration, ICE officials identified and released detained individuals who posed the least threat to public safety, were not subject to mandatory detention and who were appropriate candidates for supervised release. These decisions were made on a case by case basis, by career law enforcement officials in the field, in order to ensure that ICE maintained sufficient resources to detain serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety through the end of the continuing resolution.
Christenson further claimed, “With sequestration now in effect, ICE must reduce expenditures by $294,000,000 across all of its programs, which represents a 5% cut to all accounts across ICE’s budget and will reduce ICE’s actual annual detention budget going forward."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) wasn’t buying Christensen’s explanation. He said of the decision
that Administration officials at ICE prepared cold calculations to release thousands of criminal aliens onto the streets and did not demonstrate any consideration of the impact this decision would have on the safety of Americans. The decision to release detained aliens undermines the Department of Homeland Security’s mission to keep our homeland secure and instead makes our communities less safe and more vulnerable to crime.
Goodlatte pointed out that there were "clearly" better ways to make the cuts other than releasing "criminals onto the streets." He continued:
The House Judiciary Committee has found several ways the Department could save money in light of sequestration, such as reducing staff bonuses and performance awards and using unspent funds from inefficient state and local grant programs. But regardless of sequestration, DHS actually has plenty of funding to pay for the detention of criminal aliens. Unfortunately, it seems Administration officials are more interested in using sequestration to promote their political agenda than as an opportunity to get our nation’s fiscal house in order. The Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on this issue soon to get down to the bottom of this problematic situation.
Furthermore, Republican senators and congressmen have been complaining that these cuts come even though DHS didn’t spend $8 billion in allocated funds. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on February 27, 2013 and was concerned that these cuts come even though $8 billion was allocated but unspent in 2012.
While the Department released illegal alien detainees into the population on the basis of cost cutting, we find this decision particularly troubling because the Department has carried or will carry forward billions of dollars in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Last year, the department announced an unobligated balance of over $8 billion.
While the administration claims everyone released so far does not pose a danger to the public, anecdotal evidence shows otherwise. In a New York Times report on the program, the paper featured one individual named Anthony Orlando Williams that was released and appeared to present a danger to the public.
Among those released in the past week was Anthony Orlando Williams, 52, a Jamaican immigrant who spent nearly three years in a detention center in Georgia. "I’m good, man," he said. "I’m free."
Mr. Williams, in a telephone interview from Stone Mountain, Ga., said he became an illegal immigrant when he overstayed a visa in 1991. He was detained in 2010 by a sheriff’s deputy in Gwinnett County, Ga., when it was discovered that he had violated probation for a conviction in 2005 of simple assault, simple battery and child abuse, charges that sprung from a domestic dispute with his wife at the time. He was transferred to ICE custody and has been fighting a deportation order with the help of Families for Freedom, an immigrant support group in New York.
According to the newly released ICE document, on February 15, ICE facilities were already only holding 30,748, well below capacity. Starting that week, ICE planned a series of cuts which would drop that number by about one thousand per week until it would hit a low of 25,748 on the week of March 22, according to this document.
Based on DHS data, the average number of detainees in ICE prisons in FY 2013 through February 25, 2013, is 33,925. The 25,748 target number would represent a 25% decline from the average so far. However, with an apparent excess of funding and below capacity holdings, the numbers supporting the Obama administration's decision don't add up.
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