US agency frees Caribbean detainees as budget looms

WASHINGTON, United States, Tuesday February 26, 2013 – In a move clearly designed to save money, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency says it has released a number of Caribbean and other immigrant detainees from jails and detention centers across the country.

ICE said that the move comes as automatic US federal budget cuts loom on March 1.

“In order to make the best use of our limited detention resources in the current fiscal climate and to manage our detention population under current congressionally mandated levels, ICE has directed field offices to review the detained population to ensure it is in line with available funding,” said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen .

“As a result of this review, a number of detained aliens have been released around the country and placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release,” she added.

Christensen declined to give an estimate of how many immigrants, and their nationalities, were placed on “supervised release”.

But advocates and immigration lawyers reported a “mass release” including dozens of detainees from separate facilities in New Jersey, Arizona, Louisiana, Texas and Florida.

Bryan Johnson, an immigration lawyer in Long Island, New York, said a client held in New Jersey’s Bergen County Jail called to tell him guards were freeing 12 immigrants.

“We’re getting reports from multiple detention centers in Texas, Florida and New Orleans, where detainees who are low priority are being released in mass without bond,” said Domenic Powell, a spokesman for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, a Washington-based immigration advocacy group.

Christensen, however, said ICE is continuing to prosecute cases in immigration court and will seek deportations.

ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security said they are analyzing spending as congressional inaction increases the likelihood of so-called budget sequestration or across-the-board spending cuts.

The American Civil Liberties Union said that detaining immigrants is an expensive business, with an average daily cost of US$122 to US$164 per person.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said ICE “will be forced” under sequestration to reduce detention and removal of undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants.

Immigrant rights advocates have long called for ICE to release some detainees, either to allow them to stay in the United States or to keep them out of prison-like detention centers until they are deported.

The groups have argued that the Obama administration has violated its stated principle of focusing on the most dangerous undocumented immigrants in favor of padding numbers by going after low-level offenders instead. (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)