Immigration Detainee Release Under Fire

Mariano Castillo and Nick Valenica, CNN, February 28, 2013

At first, Miguel Hernandez thought it was a mistake, or worse, a joke.

The 19-year-old had been pulled over for failure to use his turn signal, but the fact that he is an undocumented immigrant landed him in a detention center in rural Georgia.

Hernandez was certain that deportation proceedings would follow soon, and was mulling over it when a guard brought some news: He was being released.

“I was walking and I was thinking, this is a joke. They probably got confused with another guy or something,” Hernandez said.

More likely, Hernandez was one of hundreds of undocumented immigrants released from detention because of looming budget cuts set to take effect Friday absent congressional action.

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The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decision to move detainees to less costly supervision options was met with backlash from Republicans who accuse the Obama administration of using scare tactics to win a political battle.

“It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, said. {snip}

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The decision was made by career ICE employees, an administration official told CNN. The move was made because the agency was preparing its year-end budget and had to take budget cuts into consideration, the official said.

An exact number of released detainees has not been released; ICE characterized it as “several hundred.” The population of immigration detainees is currently about 30,700.

Those who have been released are non-criminals or low-risk offenders without serious criminal histories, ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said.

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Another ICE official reiterated that all of those released remain in deportation proceedings, released on an order of supervision.

Some of those released will be on intensive supervision, such as ankle monitors, while others will just have weekly check-ins with an ICE officer, the official said.

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Those being released alongside Hernandez on Sunday were confused about what was happening. Some detainees who had bonds as high as $25,000 were being told they were bonded and released.

Hernandez said he believes some of those released with him are repeat offenders who have been previously deported.

Most were given a paper with a court date, but not Hernandez. He has been waiting for his court date to be mailed to him.

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