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Detainees released: Could that hurt immigration reform? (+video)

Hundreds of immigration detainees deemed low risk have been released – part of a national game of chicken over the 'sequester.’ But the move could have consequences for immigration reform.

By Staff writer / February 27, 2013



Atlanta

Citing impending budget cuts, immigration officials have announced the release of hundreds of detainees considered low-level threats to public safety. This move by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has quickly turned into one of the most baffling chapters in the public-relations chess match going on between House Republicans and the Obama White House over the looming “sequester.”

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The release of detainees may score some short-term points for President Obama, who has been sending dire warnings about the impact of the cuts, including with a speech Tuesday at a Virginia shipyard. But the GOP could also strike a chord with Americans by highlighting security concerns and other issues posed by the release.

And such concerns could bring into play even more than the fight over federal spending, deficits, and the debt. Namely, the release of detainees could also affect the debate over comprehensive immigration reform.

That's important because the GOP's political future may in part be staked on potential gains that the party can make with Hispanic voters. Mr. Obama, too, could lose a lot if immigration reform falters.

"It's natural that people in a federal organization are going to take this chance to prove how important they are to the public, especially as that goal is aligned with a White House trying to raise the ante" over the spending cuts, says Allert Brown-Gort, an immigration expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. "But," he adds, "this also points to some of the questions around the immigration bill right now," including how serious the government is about securing the US-Mexico border.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the release came as ICE prepared for the sequester, which is set to kick in Friday and which mandates automatic cuts from nearly all corners of the federal bureaucracy, including ICE's $2.05 billion budget. In announcing the release, ICE insisted that the government is not dropping these deportation cases.

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