House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte on Tuesday released an internal U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) document showing that the agency planned to release thousands of illegal aliens from detention centers in response to cuts resulting from sequestration.
The document revealed that from Feb. 15 to March 31, 2013, ICE planned to release 1,000 detainees a week, reducing their detainee numbers from 30,748 to 26,748 — well below the 34,000 mandated by Congress, Goodlatte noted.
“An internal document obtained by the House Judiciary Committee shows that Administration officials at ICE prepared cold calculations to release thousands of criminal aliens onto the streets and did not demonstrate any consideration of the impact this decision would have on the safety of Americans,” Goodlatte said in a statement, asserting that the decision “undermines” the Department of Homeland Security’s mission and makes Americans “less safe.”
ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez, however, explained in an emailed statement that ICE law enforcement officials have been working to do the best job they can with the resources allotted to them by Congress.
“With sequestration now in effect, ICE must reduce expenditures by $294,000,000 across all of its programs, which represents a 5% cut to all accounts across ICE’s budget and will reduce ICE’s actual annual detention budget going forward,” Gonzalez wrote. “ICE will continue to manage its budget in a prioritized manner, ensuring that the focus remains on serious criminal offenders and others who pose a threat to public safety.”
She stressed that each individual is reviewed on a “case-by-case basis” to release those detainees “who posed the least threat to public safety, were not subject to mandatory detention and who were appropriate candidates for supervised release” and added that ICE is reviewing the releases to determine “which individuals were released due to normal fluctuations and which were released primarily due to the budgetary pressures of the continuing resolution and the sequester.”
Currently, ICE does not keep records on those detainees released largely due to budget constraints.
Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano confirmed Monday at a Politico breakfast event that the releases would continue.
“We’re going to continue to do that … for the foreseeable future,” Napolitano said. “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.”
Napolitano told ABC News last week that she had no part in the decision to release immigrant detainees.
White House spokesman Jay Carney earlier asserted that the “decision made by career officials at ICE, without any input from the White House.”
According to Goodlatte, the Judiciary Committee plans to hold hearings on the matter “soon.”
“Clearly, there are better ways to save money than to release criminals onto the streets,” he said. “The House Judiciary Committee has found several ways the Department could save money in light of sequestration, such as reducing staff bonuses and performance awards and using unspent funds from inefficient state and local grant programs.”
He further noted that he believes the decision to be part and parcel of a “political agenda.”
“But regardless of sequestration, DHS actually has plenty of funding to pay for the detention of criminal aliens,” Goodlatte continued. “Unfortunately, it seems Administration officials are more interested in using sequestration to promote their political agenda than as an opportunity to get our nation’s fiscal house in order. The Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on this issue soon to get down to the bottom of this problematic situation.”
According to ICE, however — which has maintained an average detainee population of 33,925 for fiscal year 2013, as of Feb. 25 — the administration has put a premium on keeping criminal detainees off the streets.
“This Administration has focused its immigration enforcement efforts on criminal offenders first and foremost, and the results speak for themselves. ICE’s detention and removal of criminal offenders last fiscal year was the highest in the agency’s history,” Gonzalez concluded.
Last week, Goodlatte and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Napolitano demanding answers about the releases, with a March 7 deadline for a response.