Republicans call foul on release of immigrant detainees (+video)
Immigration officials say the detainee release was a bureaucratic necessity to prepare for sequester budget cuts. But the move has raised questions about whether the administration is playing politics.
The move this week by US immigration officials to release hundreds, possibly thousands, of detained illegal immigrants to prepare for automatic spending cuts has Republicans calling foul. It’s renewed lingering questions on the right about how serious President Obama is about immigration enforcement, and even whether Congress still has a role to play in how the administration oversees the nation’s borders.Skip to next paragraph
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To be sure, Mr. Obama has overseen record numbers of annual deportations since he took office, and his administration has beefed up patrols along the US-Mexico border, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
Also, the White House on Wednesday denied any prior knowledge of the detainee release, calling it the purview of career Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) bureaucrats dealing with a 5 percent cut in discretionary spending that could start Friday.
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But critics on the Hill suggest the detainee release, announced Tuesday by ICE officials, is in fact part of a broader, ongoing executive strategy to circumvent congressional mandates. In this case, they say, the goal is a new national immigration policy that’s dictated not by Congress, but by the White House.
Either way, the move comes at a sensitive time for immigration policy, as congressional leaders are attempting to shepherd a compromise immigration-reform bill through the chambers. A major potential holdup for that plan is whether Republicans can trust the Obama White House to enforce US immigration law.
“The administration is using the looming sequestration [budget cuts] in order to open the doors to let people out, because they really never wanted to detain these people in the first place,” says Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which advocates against illegal immigration. “At some point, you would think Congress would have to respond, because it reaches a point where the administration is basically saying, ‘We don’t care what you guys are doing, and we’re going to ignore your constitutional role in how the country is run.’ ”
Congress has mandated as part of its appropriations that ICE detain at least 34,000 people, noted senior Republicans, including House Judiciary Committee chairman Robert Goodlatte and Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, ICE’s latest move appears to violate this legislation, they contend. ICE reported that it had just under 31,000 people in custody this week.
The Center for Immigration Studies, another Washington immigration think tank that advocates against illegal immigration, reported late Wednesday that ICE field offices had been instructed “to reduce the number of detainees from 34,000 to 25,000,” according to CIS staffer Jessica Vaughan on the group’s website. Officially, ICE has requested that Congress reduce its detainee mandate, or quota, to 32,800 detainees next year, while it would expand “alternative to detention” programs that use phone check-ins or GPS anklets to ensure that those charged with immigration violations attend their court hearings.