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Immigration officials tight-lipped about detainee release. What is known?

Here are the basics about the detainee release – from the terminology that immigration officials use to a glimpse into the kinds of people who have been released.

By Staff writer / March 5, 2013

Gov. Rick Perry delivers the state of the state address in the house chambers at the state capitol, in Austin, Texas, in January. Perry said that the release of detainees by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement – whom the agency says describes as noncriminals and low-risk offenders – constitute a ' federally sponsored jailbreak.'

Eric Gay/AP/File



US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said last week it was releasing a "few hundred" detainees to save money ahead of the automatic spending cuts in the “sequester.” A few days later, the Associated Press reported that the move involved closer to 2,000 detainees, who were set free from Atlanta to Livingston, Texas.

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As criticism about the move – was it a sequester-related scare tactic by the White House? – rose from politicians like House Speaker John Boehner, ICE contended that it did not coordinate with the White House. The released detainees, it said, were "noncriminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories."

But this week, Gov. Rick Perry (R) of Texas has been among those suggesting a more sinister development – that many of the released detainees are "criminal aliens," whose release onto the streets represents a massive and "unconscionable ... federally sponsored jailbreak."

To be sure, immigration record keeping and reporting are so poor in the United States that entire academic departments make their hay out of squeezing ICE for information and then analyzing the data for public consumption. When a nonpartisan immigration think tank released a report about ICE's work on the border recently, one person at the center suggested with a sigh that the report told a powerful tale that the agency had largely failed to tell itself.

Yet the lack of detailed information from ICE about its detainee policy has only added fuel to the questions and criticisms surrounding the detainee release.

Here it what is known so far about the release – from the terminology ICE uses for illegal immigrants to a glimpse into the kinds of people ICE has released.

The detainee controversy comes after other moves by the Obama administration. Since early in the Obama presidency, ICE has used greater discretion in deciding whom to target for deportation, focusing on those deemed higher risks to public safety. And last year, the administration set up a program that allows young illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children to be eligible for work permits.


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