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As Sequester Looms, Government Begins to Release Low-Priority Detainees


Adelfina Guzman listens along with immigration advocates to President Barack Obama's speech on immigration reform, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in San Diego.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

An unknown number of detainees may be some of the few in the U.S. who actually find a positive element to the looming federal budget cuts, set to take effect on Friday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently directed its field offices to review their detainees. This review resulted in the release of some of the low-priority detainees—men and women who haven’t committed serious crimes. ICE, like many other federal agencies, must keep costs down to remain under budget, and to do so they decided low-priority detainees would be more cost effective in a supervised-release program.

United We Dream the largest immigrant youth network in the nation stands against detainments for “low-priority” detainees. The organization states that detaining these people is unnecessary and tears families apart. The organization also advocates for a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented Americans.

United We Dream released a statement that posed the question: Does it take a manufactured crisis to reunite families and shed light on reckless enforcement and a never-ending cycle of deportation?

The statement said that ICE's release of low-priority detainees demonstrated the reckless and aggressive approach to immigration control that has been ramping up for years. Low-priority individuals are people who pose absolutely no risk or danger to society, and they should not have been locked up to begin with, according to the statement.

"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," said Carolina Canizales, Coordinator of United We Dream’s End our Pain Program. "Our communities have experienced so much pain already. Now is the moment for real immigration reform that puts all of us on the path to citizenship and ends these inhumane practices."

United We Dream also released a 20-step plan for immigration reform that could help curb the number of detainees.  

ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have been analyzing their spending as the increasingly likelihood of sequestration—across-the-board spending cuts—becomes more likely. Detaining immigrants is expensive, with an average daily cost of $122 to $164 per person, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Alternatives, including ankle bracelets and parole, are far less expensive. ICE did not disclose how many detainees were released, however, representatives did state that the cases are not being dropped and they will still deport the released detainees if ordered by a judge.

Charlie is a communications intern for Campus Progress.

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