PHOENIX – Arizona officials â€” from the statehouse to Capitol Hill â€” were outraged on Tuesday at the Obama administrationâ€™s release of hundreds of illegal immigrants held in local jails to save money as huge budget cuts loom.
â€œIâ€™m appalled to learn the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to release hundreds of illegal aliens from custody, the first of potentially thousands to soon be freed under the guise of federal budget cuts,â€ said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who has long battled the White House on immigration matters. â€œThis is pure political posturing and the height of absurdity, given that the releases are being granted before the federal sequestration cuts have even gone into effect.â€
In Pinal County, about 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Sheriff Paul Babeau told Newsmax, the release of hundreds of detainees over the weekend was â€œoutrageous and unacceptable, because thereâ€™s a direct and immediate impact to public safety of families in my county.
â€œThese are criminal illegals,â€ Babeau added. â€œThey were headed for deportation â€” but now, they have received a budget pardon.â€
And Arizona Sen. John McCain, told Newsmax, â€œWeâ€™re very concerned about this.â€
The 2008 GOP presidential candidate met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday at the White House to discuss immigration reform.
â€œPeople shouldnâ€™t be released who have been incarcerated,â€ McCain said.
The illegal immigrants were released after their cases were reviewed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said ICE spokeswoman Gillian M. Christensen.
The agency falls under Homeland Security, headed by Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona attorney general and its governor from 2003-2009.
About $85 billion in cross-government cuts are scheduled to go into effect on Friday. About 5.3 percent of the ICE budget would be cut.
â€œAs fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration, ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICEâ€™s current budget,â€ Christensen said in a statement. â€œOver the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention.
â€œAll of these individuals remain in removal proceedings,â€ Christensen added. â€œPriority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.â€
The illegals were granted supervised release, she said. Under supervised release, defendants in immigration cases must abide by a strict reporting schedule that might include attending appointments at regional ICE offices and telephonic and electronic monitoring.
Christensen said that she could not specify how many detainees had been released â€” nationally or in Arizona â€” or when the releases began.
But a source who was not authorized to speak on the record told Newsmax that slightly more than 300 immigrants had been released across the country since last Thursday â€” with about 50 from Pinal County facilities â€” and all were classified as low-security threats.
Still, Babeau said that any release of illegals in Pinal County, regardless of how theyâ€™re designated by ICE, posed a threat because two major interstate highways intersected in the county.
â€œWe are one of the most-impacted counties in the country for drugs and human smuggling.â€
Pinal County, located in central Arizona, is located between Phoenix and Tucson. It spans about 5,400 square miles and has about 400,000 residents. The Sheriffâ€™s Department, with 214 sworn deputies, manages a jail with about 1,500 inmates, Babeau said.
â€œA lot of these people werenâ€™t even arrested here. They werenâ€™t arrested in my county,â€ he said. â€œA lot of them were arrested in Phoenix or somewhere else, and theyâ€™re brought into my county â€” and now, they are released on the streets and in my neighborhoods.â€
Further, it doesnâ€™t matter that the illegals are now on supervised release, the sheriff added.
â€œIt is unacceptable for anyone to believe thatâ€™s feasible. These are people who have defied and disrespected our law to come into our country â€” and weâ€™ve had a problem even stopping them from coming into our sovereign country â€” so how do we think weâ€™re going to be able to supervise release for criminal illegals?â€ Babeau asked. â€œThey donâ€™t respect the law.â€
Meanwhile, other GOP legislators on Capitol Hill joined with McCain in blasting the White House over the detainee releases.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said they jeopardized the chances for a deal on immigration reform between the White House and Congress.
â€œIt is clear the Administration is using the [budget cuts known as the sequester] as a convenient excuse to bow to political pressure from the amnesty groups, as it did with its unilateral decision to confer legal status on millions who are not lawfully present,â€ Sessions said.
â€œWith this new action, the administration has further demonstrated that it has no commitment to enforcing the law and cannot be trusted to deliver on any future promises of enforcement.â€
And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte was just as brutal.
â€œItâ€™s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,â€ the Virginia Republican said.
â€œBy releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the Administration is needlessly endangering American lives,â€ he added. â€œIt also undermines our efforts to come together with the administration and reform our nationâ€™s immigration laws.â€