By Todd Beamon
ARIZONA – Arizona’s top two sheriffs told Newsmax that they are fighting an uphill battle against illegal immigration in their state because the federal government has still not provided information about the illegals they released from local jails last year due to budget cuts.
“They released 2,000-plus criminals who were on their way to deportation,” Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said in an interview. “These are the same people that even President Obama said needed to be deported out of the country.
“We have illegals who we are arresting every day,” Babeu added. “We don’t know if these are the same people. They won’t give us the names.”
“We turn them over to ICE, and they keep coming back to jail,” said Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Either they’re letting them out the back door â€” or they’re deporting them, and they keep coming back. There’s a problem with this.”
In February 2013, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security â€” which manages ICE â€” released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants from jails in Arizona, California, Georgia, and Texas just days before federal budget cuts were to take effect through sequestration on March 1.
The effort was halted in those states after Arizona officials â€” including Gov. Jan Brewer, GOP Sen. John McCain, and the sheriffs â€” expressed outrage over the release of criminals into the general population.
The illegal immigrants had their cases reviewed by ICE before they were released, spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told Newsmax at the time, and they were classified as low-security threats.
They also were placed on supervised release, under which they must abide by a strict reporting schedule that could include attending appointments at regional ICE offices and telephone and electronic monitoring, Christensen said.
The sheriffs’ concerns were heightened by news reports on Friday that thousands of illegal immigrants are crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas every month in anticipation of comprehensive immigration reform.
U.S. Border Patrol agents told The New York Times that 90,700 illegal immigrants were arrested in the Rio Grande Valley in the past six months, up 69 percent over last year. The agency said it could not estimate how many crossed over successfully and dispersed throughout the United States.
The number of illegal immigrants crossing into South Texas has suddenly soared this year after six years of relatively deep declines across the southwest region, the Times reports.
The Center for Immigration Studies reported last month that ICE seized and released 68,000 illegal immigrants last year with criminal records, according to a review of agency information.
Agents questioned 722,000 potentially deportable immigrants in 2013, but filed immigration charges against only 195,000 of them.
Immigration officials then eventually freed 35 percent, or 68,000, of the illegal immigrants with criminal histories into the U.S. general population when they could have been deported, according to the review.
In their Newsmax interviews, Babeu and Arpaio said that â€” more than a year after the illegal immigrants were released from local jails and ICE detention operations in Arizona â€” they still do not have any critical information about who was released, including data on their criminal histories.
Perhaps the only thing the sheriffs know are numbers. Babeu told Newsmax that as many as 300 illegal immigrants had been released into Pinal County last February â€” and Arpaio said he conducted his own survey of his jail’s 1,300 inmates in recent weeks.
In total, 2,226 illegal immigrants were released in February 2013 â€” and 622 had criminal records, according to information provided after McCain and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan wrote the agency in light of news reports.
Thirty-two of those with records were convicted of multiple felonies, and 24 were again arrested by Border Patrol agents and detained by ICE, the senators said.
McCain and Levin included the specifics in a request for more information sent last month to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who succeeded Janet Napolitano in December.
“We write today to seek additional information on last yearâ€™s detainee release and inquire whether ICE or the Department of Homeland Security â€¦ has taken any actions to ensure accountability for what occurred,” they said in their March 13 letter.
The senators also noted recent news reports that disclosed that discrepancies had existed in information DHS gave to them and Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which also is investigating the releases.
In a recent interview, Christensen confirmed the 2,226 figure to Newsmax.
“The individuals released in February 2013 continue to be monitored individually by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations deportation officers to determine the appropriate level of supervised release for each specific case,” she said in a statement.
This is “standard ERO procedure for any detainee released from custody,” Christensen said.
She added that information on the criminal backgrounds of the released illegal immigrants was “not readily available, as it would require pulling 2,200-plus individual case files to collate information specific to those releases.”
Of the McCain-Levin letter, “ICE will respond to the senators’ letter directly,” Christensen said. The senators sought a response by April 3.
Queries to McCain’s office by Newsmax on Friday were not answered. McCain is the ranking Republican on the Senate Investigations Subcommittee. Levin is the panelâ€™s chairman.
Meanwhile, the dearth of federal information makes battling illegal immigration in Arizona a lot tougher, Babeu and Arpaio told Newsmax. Whatever the sheriffs now know about any illegal immigrants who may have been released last year comes from background checks after theyâ€™ve been arrested again.
“When anyone’s released from jail, there’s always a concern about recidivism,” Babeu said. “If there’s not some kind of a planned release that will support the prisoner â€¦ the recidivism rate is off the charts.
“These are people who aren’t from the United States of America,” he added. “They’re simply released to the street, and they have nowhere to go.
“They said it was a supervised release, but the likelihood of them checking in is next to none,” Babeu said.
Arpaio â€” the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” â€” said that of the 1,300 illegal immigrants he counted in his jail, 400 had been previously deported and re-arrested for other crimes â€” including murder. “Some have come back 18 times, eight times, 10 times,” he said.
“You’ve got all these guys walking out on the streets, but we don’t have a record of why they’re on the street. Where are these people? We don’t know where they’re at.
“I can’t figure out why these guys keep coming back to jail charged with other crimes all the time,” Arpaio said. “I can’t figure it out.”
Babeu cited, for instance, the recent arrest of a 33-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico with three others who had “just dropped off a drug load. The guy said he had been deported 14 times” â€” which ICE confirmed in a background check.
Two days later, another Mexican, 25, was arrested with a fake driver’s license and a .40-caliber revolver, the sheriff said. He was deported in 2012 for transporting drugs and illegally carrying a handgun.
“We’re running into these people all the time,” Babeu said. “It stands to reason that if somebody can break into the country 15 times, at will â€¦ what about people from countries of interest or terrorist organizations?
“This is what is so insane about this whole discussion of immigration reform,” he added.
“They say: ‘Look the other way. There is no problem at the border. The border is more secure than ever’ â€” and it is a complete lie.”