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Detained immigrants released; officials cite sequester cuts

Homeland Security Agencies Work To Secure U.S.-Mexico Border In Arizona

Immigration officials announced the release of hundreds of detained immigrants Tuesday. (John Moore / Getty Images / February 26, 2013)

WASHINGTON -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have released “several hundred” immigrants from deportation centers across the country, saying the move is an effort to cut costs ahead of budget cuts due to hit later this week.

Announcing the news Tuesday, ICE officials said that the immigrants were released under supervision and continue to face deportation. After reviewing hundreds of cases, those released were considered low-risk and “noncriminal,” officials said.

The releases took place over the last week and were an effort “to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget,” said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christiansen, citing uncertainty caused by a budget standoff in Washington.

“All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety,” she said.

U.S. immigration law: Decades of debate

Much of the federal government is braced to feel the pinch from $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts due to start Friday. Both Republicans and Democrats have said they oppose the cuts, but the two parties cannot agree on a budget deal that would avert them.

ICE’s decision was praised by some who have long criticized the rise in detentions and deportations under the Obama administration. Human rights and immigration advocates have accused the administration of ramping up arrests in response to political pressure.

“We have long advocated for expanded use of alternatives to detention, a step we knew would save taxpayers millions of dollars,” said Ruthie Epstein of Human Rights First. “It is a shame that it took the threat of serious budget cuts to prompt this move. Even so, ICE’s decision makes clear that the government can save money by reforming its approach to immigration detention.”

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