WASHINGTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised to release more illegal immigrants into the United States, saying the budget sequester has left her no choice.
Several hundred detainees have already released because of the sequester, she insisted. They were released on bail, or because their legal status had changed, she said.
“We’re going to continue to do that … for the foreseeable future,” Napolitano said at a March 4 breakfast meeting hosted by Politico. “We are going to manage our way through this by identifying the lowest risk detainees, and putting them into some kind of alternative to release.”
However, Napolitano’s statement clashed with a March 1 report by The Associated Press, which said that internal agency documents show that her managers had already released 2,000 detainees, and planned to release 3,000 more detainees.
Napolitano’s threat reflects the White House’s determination to ramp up public distress until the GOP agrees to another tax increase.
Under the sequester, budgets at the Pentagon and the numerous civilian agencies are being cut by roughly 8 percent from March to September. The cuts will trim roughly 1 percent from federal spending in 2013.
President Barack Obama suggested the sequester plan in 2011, and is now refusing any changes until the GOP agrees to tax increases.
There are roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, of whom roughly 7 million are working, mostly in low-skill jobs. However, roughly 20 million Americans are without jobs, including several million Americans with few job skills.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, Obama offered work permits to more than 750,000 illegals, and rolled back enforcement of immigration law.
Napolitano’s threat to release more illegals was not criticized by Tom Ridge, a former secretary of Homeland Security under George W. Bush, who was also interviewed at the Politico breakfast.
Instead, Ridge complained that the controversy over the illegals’ release threatened passage of the draft immigration rewrite.
Progress towards a legislative success “gets sidelined — well, did you release 2,000? Didn’t you release 2,000? What about this, what about that?” Ridge complained.
The pending rewrite would offer immediate work permits to roughly 11 million illegal immigrants, a path for their relatives to join them in the United States, plus a ramped-up flow of foreign workers into the United States, despite the high unemployment rate.
“The job of the secretary of Homeland Security … with regard to securing the border would be a heck of a lot easier if the U.S. Congress would forget about the partisanship and come up with a broad-based, comprehensive immigration plan,” Ridge complained.
“Story ends right there,” said Ridge, who is now a consultant to various business groups, and a board member of the American Action Forum.
The forum is a business-linked advocacy group that is promoting the pending immigration rewrite. It is chaired by Fred Malek, a GOP donor and activist, who owns the Thayer Lodging Group. The group owns several hotels, some in partnership with a Chinese hotel firm.
Ridge’s complaint was backed by Napolitano. “Ditto, absolutely,” she said.
Napolitano’s promise to release more prisoners was indirectly criticized by Michael Cherthoff, who also served as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
To win passage of an immigration revamp, the public needs to be reassured that immigration enforcement will continue after the law is passed, said Cherthoff, who led President George W. Bush’s effort in 2006 to push through a controversial amnesty law. The effort was backed by business Republicans and progressives, but was derailed by a wave of public protests.
“Making people confident there will be continued enforcement and security, and it won’t go away once you have some kind of amnesty” is vital, he said.
He also warned Napolitano that legislators need to rush the draft rewrite through Congress before the opposition can mobilize.
In 2006, “the time between agreement and getting it to the floor really allowed a lot of erosion from both the right and let … [so] you’ve got to move it it quickly,” said Chertoff, who is now employed by Covington & Burling, a large legal and lobbying firm.