Immigrant detainees released to save money

The thin sequester silver lining highlights problems with DHS mass detention of illegal immigrants

By Natasha Lennard

Published February 27, 2013 3:59PM (EST)

The Department of Homeland Security has released hundreds of illegal immigrants from detention centers around the country in what the New York Times reported as "a highly unusual effort to save money as automatic budget cuts loom in Washington."

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials plan to release up to 10,000 detainees -- all held for nonviolent offenses related to immigration violation.  The detainees are being freed on supervised release while their cases continue in court, officials said.

The announcement provoked angry backlash from Republicans and conservative commentators. According to the Times, Rep. Robert Goodlatte (R-Va) said, "It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration.” Meanwhile Arizona's Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told Fox News the move was "politically motivated -- and dangerous."

Immigrant justices advocates -- and those generally opposed to the U.S.'s unparalleled practice of mass incarceration -- have argued that the DHS decision highlights the absurdity that federal money goes towards locking up nonviolent offenders in the thousands. If these individuals can continue to face the relevant legal proceedings without being kept in cages, the policy of holding illegal immigrants in detention centers appears highlighted as unnecessary and cruel. "As of Saturday, ICE was holding 30,773 people in its detention system," the Times noted.

“It shouldn’t take a manufactured crisis in Washington to prompt our immigration agencies to actually take steps towards using government resources wisely or keeping families together,” commented Carolina Canizales of United We Dream, the nation’s largest group of young illegal immigrants.

Anthony Orlando Williams, 52, a Jamaican immigrant who spent nearly three years in a detention center in Georgia and was released last week as a part of the money saving measure told the Times, "“I’m good, man... I’m free... That was a long, long, long run.” Williams, like the other released detainees, will have to adhere to a strict reporting schedule.

DHS' decision does not constitute a significant change to immigration and deportation policies, but immigrant advocacy groups hope at the very least it will help their fight against expensive and unnecessary mass imprisonment of immigrants.



Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Detention Dhs Ice Illegal Immigrants Immigration Immigration Reform