The number of immigration detainees released by the federal government in recent weeks numbers in thousands, not in the hundreds as the administration said earlier this week, according to a new report.
The Associated Press reported Friday that more than 2,000 immigrants have been released from detention in the past several weeks because of impending budget cuts. The agency planned to release 3,000 more detainees in March, the AP reported, citing internal government budget documents.
Gillian Christensen, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), issued a statement in response to the report:
"ICE detention populations ebb and flow on a daily basis with many individuals both coming into, and leaving ICE custody. Beyond that normal movement, and as fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration, ICE reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget and placed several hundred individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention.
"At this point, we don't anticipate additional releases, but that could change based on sequester. As such, the agency must prepare contingency plans in the event of future cuts, however those plans are simply deliberative as we do not yet know what the cut rate will be.
"All of the individuals placed in less costly monitoring programs remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety."
From the AP:
The budget documents show that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released roughly 1,000 illegal immigrants from its jails around the U.S. each week since at least Feb. 15. The agency's field offices have reported more than 2,000 released before intense criticism this week led to a temporary shutdown of the plan.
The purpose of immigration detention is to hold suspected undocumented immigrants for possible deportation, and many immigrants in detention have not been convicted of a crime. Immigrant-rights advocates have long-pushed for changes to the detention system to reduce detention for lower priority immigrants, saying that such a system would be more cost efficient.
National Immigration Forum estimated that it costs $122 to $164 a day to hold someone in detention. Alternatives to detention could cost from 30 cents to $14 a day per immigrant, The New York Times reported.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told ABC News on Thursday that the decision about detainee releases was made by "career officials" and not political appointees, but that she regretted how the announcement was made.
"Do I wish that this all hadn't been done all of a sudden and so that people weren't surprised by it? Of course," she said.