Multiple detention centers across the country began freeing groups of low-priority detainees without bond in a program of “supervised release” today. The move came as a surprise. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cited sequestration as its motivation. Activists, however, claimed that the action illustrated the Obama administration was “caving to pressure” from activists on immigration enforcement policies.
While ICE has not disclosed how many detainees or what areas this affected, early reports claimed that dozens of detainees were released from facilities in Florida, California, New Jersey, New Orleans, and Texas. Dozens of people in any given facility the National Immigrant Youth Alliance contacted were being released simultaneously. Activists across the nation are in active communication to acertain the extent of the operation.
CIVIC, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, received reports from attorneys indicating that even some detainees who are subject to mandatory detention were released today.
“Lots of us are getting out who were brought in for driving without a license or other small things,” said Manuel Perez, a detainee at Polk Detention Center in Livingston, Texas. “I hope more of us are able to get out soon.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explained the move as a bow to sequestration, government spending cuts related to political dealing surrounding the US budget. The cost to detain an immigrant is approximately $164 per day, and the US has the ability to hold 32,800 detainees per day, according to the National Immigration Forum. For the current fiscal year, DHS and the White House requested $1.959 billion for DHS Custody Operations. This amounts to $5.4 million per day spent on immigration detention.
However, Congressional sequestration talks, say the NIYA, merely provide an excuse for the Obama administration. NIYA instead attributes the wave of releases from immigration detention centers to the pressure they themselves placed on the administration with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and other unnamed groups. The Obama Administration, says the NIYA, heard their demand that it reverse its record regime of aggressive deportations.
Prosecutorial discretion policy
Since June 17, 2011, the Obama Administration has insisted that it has been using discretion in deportation cases that can be considered “low-priority” or that could cause undue hardship for citizen family members. However, last week USA Today revealed that ICE had violated its own policy of prosecutorial discretion. It utilized egregious practices as trolling state Department of Motor Vehicles records and using traffic safety stops in an effort to uncover immigrants eligible for removal.
In North Carolina, for instance, an immigration checkpoint was established recently operating under the guise of the state’s “Click it or Ticket” campaign.
Between 2008 and 2012, only 22 percent of ICE detainees had been convicted of any crime at all. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as requested by the ACLU revealed that National ICE instructed its regional offices explicitly to violate policy upheld by the President and reiterated in testimony before Congress from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
After hearing of this explicit directive to counteract ICE's own public policy, NIYA called for the resignation of ICE Director John Morton.
Last year, NIYA infiltrated a Florida detention center to locate detainees eligible for deferred action as low-priority cases and to begin efforts to organize for their release. In the Broward facility alone, they uncovered over 100 instances of detainees who, according to the Obama policies, should have been released.
Those whom ICE released today, says NIYA, could have been released months, even years, ago. Indeed, had ICE adhered to its own policies, they would have been.
Whatever the reason prompting today's detainee releases, the move will save taxpayer money. And as Obama continues his political push for immigration reform, his record on deportations will stand in stark contrast to the immigration reform policies he has proposed.