CINCINNATI — An Immigration and Customs Enforcement decision to release some undocumented immigrants from detention centers because of looming budget cuts is being applied unevenly across the country.
ICE wouldn’t explain Thursday why prisoners were let go beginning Tuesday from some facilities but not others.
None of the 93 “immigration detainees” being held in the Butler County Jail in Hamilton, Ohio, have been released, said Sgt. Monte Mayer, Butler County Sheriff’s spokesman.
ICE officials said in a statement that the release of hundreds of undocumented immigrants was caused by uncertainty about the agency’s budget. Broad federal budget cuts are expected to start Friday under the so-called “sequester,” which mandates $85 billion in spending cuts during the rest of fiscal 2013 and $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which faces a $4 billion budget cut, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said earlier this week.
“ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE’s current budget,” agency Deputy Press Secretary Gillian Christensen said in a statement. “Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention.
“All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.”.
300 let go in Arizona.
Around the country, 300 illegal immigrants were released from federal custody in Arizona, stoking an already white-hot controversy in the border state that has one of the nation’s toughest laws against illegal immigration.
Illegal immigrants also were released from federal detention in Michigan and Ohio, but ICE’s Detroit office, which has jurisdiction over the two states, said it was not “at liberty to discuss the breakdown beyond confirmation.”.
ICE officials in Washington confirmed that illegal immigrants were released from detention in California, New Jersey, New York and Texas. The Associated Press reported that 100 such prisoners were released from Broward Transitional Center in Florida.
The federal government has 32,800 beds nationally for illegal immigrants in detention, at an estimated average cost of $164 a day. Other means of community-based monitoring can cost less than $14 a day, according to the National Immigration Forum.
Immigrants released in Florida were told to self-report to immigration offices within the week and again within a month.
Even as momentum appears to be building toward changes in immigration law, ICE has reported record numbers of deportations in each of the past three years. The agency said it deported 409,849 immigrants in fiscal 2012, up from 396,906 and 392,000 in the previous two years.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this week that the decision to release the immigrants was made without any input from the White House. He described the released immigrants as “low-risk, non-criminal detainees.”.
Yet in Burlington, Ky., The 50 illegal immigrants released from the Boone County Jail had been charged with a crime other than being in the United States illegally, Boone County Jailer Ed Prindle said.
“They were released by the immigration service into the community,” he said. “This isn’t something that I like any more than anybody else.”.
The jail normally holds up to 160 immigration detainees.
Prindle said all of the immigrants released were arrested in Kentucky and were going through the deportation process.
Republicans criticize ICE.
Many congressional Republicans demanded an explanation for the sudden and uneven release of illegal immigrants.
Two top Republicans on the Senate and House Judiciary committees, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, released a letter Thursday that criticized Napolitano for her decision.
“While the administration is clearly embarking on a campaign to scare the public and Congress about the realities of budget reductions, it is clear that you have not planned adequately for the March 1 sequestration,” the Republicans wrote.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, could not be reached Thursday for comment.
The releases come about a month after a bipartisan group of senators and President Barack Obama each announced the rough framework for their respective plans for immigration law reform.
An estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants are currently in the United States. Many advocates favor a direct pathway to citizenship for them. One is the Rev. Troy Jackson, leader in the clergy-driven social reform group Ohio Prophetic Voices.
“Our current policy of incarceration is not humane, not just and not economically sustainable,” Jackson said. “These releases are a symptom of the overall problem with our policies. If it’s a more streamlined government people are after, the way we are handling undocumented people is not economically feasible.”.
Contributing: Mark Hansel and Janice Morse of The Cincinnati Enquirer; The Associated Press.