News that ICE had released some immigrant detainees -and then stopped-has elicited reactions from different groups. (Photo/Getty Images )

Halt in detainee releases spurs reactions on immigration debate

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released several hundred immigrant detainees who posed no risk due to looming budget cuts, but halted the releases, saying this could change depending on the outcome of the budget sequester. The releases – and then the halt on the releases – has generated strong reaction from different sides on issues of immigration and enforcement.

“The looming budget cuts are forcing ICE to do what it should have been doing already – prioritizing resources to focus on real threats,” said National Immigration Forum spokesperson Katherine Vargas.  The National Immigration Forum has long cited the high costs of detaining a low-risk immigrant as one of the reasons to limit ICE detention programs. In an August 2012 report called “The Math of Immigration Detention,” the organization said that taxpayers could save $1.6 billion a year – an 80 percent reduction in current costs – if only individuals convicted of serious crimes were detained and less expensive monitoring efforts were used, which was what ICE did when the detainees were released.

RELATED: Release of ICE detainees shines spotlight on immigration 

But the detainees’ releases elicited strong reactions from some lawmakers.  Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Lou Barletta said – and posted on his website: “We learned today that the Obama Administration summarily released untold numbers of inmates – this reminds me of Fidel Castro’s release of criminals in the Mariel Boatlift in 1980.” Barletta also added, “if this is the best cost-savings that Secretary Napolitano can do, then we have to begin to seriously question her judgment.”  Administration officials have said the release of detainees for budget reasons was a decision made by ICE and it did not involve the White House.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s spokesperson Matthew Benson said the detainees’ release was a “bad sign” for the Administration’s commitment to immigration reform and security, according to an article in the Arizona Republic.

“If their first step was to start releasing into the community criminal aliens, that doesn’t suggest they have a real high commitment to public safety and continued immigration enforcement,” said Benson, adding, “Hundreds or thousands of criminal aliens are being released into these communities. We don’t know anything about their criminal profiles, the manner in which they’re being supervised or where they’re being released to.”

The approximately 300 immigrants who were released had no serious criminal records and are being monitored after their release, according to ICE.

RELATED:  ICE: Official’s resignation not tied to detainees’ release 

In response to the remarks from Governor Brewer’s office,  Promise Arizona‘s Petra Falcón says that apart from the high costs of detaining immigrants with no serious criminal record, there is also the human cost of detention – and the benefits to releasing some immigrant detainees.

“It is always a good idea to bring our families together, especially when people are in detention over a broken tail light or because they were lacking some documents,” says Falcón.  “Many of these detainees have been working here for years in hotels or in landscaping, raising families, and have connections and even long-term jobs,” she adds.  “I think in these cases there should be prosecutorial discretion, but they are still being detained in Arizona.”

“As some people are being released, others are being detained—a never-ending cycle,” said Carolina Canizalez, from United We Dream.

On the legislative side, bipartisan groups in the House and Senate say they are making progress on proposals on immigration reform.

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