Finally, Something About the Sequester That Makes Sense: Release of Low-Risk Immigrant Detainees

March 04, 2013

By Victor C Johnson

Not much about the self-imposed insanity of the sequester makes sense, so it’s good to see something that does. “ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officials have said they released a few hundred people in anticipation of the budget cuts set to hit on Friday,” CQ reported on Thursday. “The people released were low-priority detainees and are still being monitored by immigration authorities, they said.”

Of course, congressional Republicans opposed to immigration reform reacted with their usual hyperbole, charging that this release of “criminal aliens” was “putting the safety of the public at risk.” This is nonsense. If enforcement cuts are required under the sequester, as they are and should be, this is exactly the kind of saving that makes sense.

Even if there were unlimited resources, and even more so given that there aren't, ICE should place in detention as a matter of priority immigration violators who are criminals and those who pose a danger to the community. For years, immigration groups have advocated alternatives to detention for nonviolent, noncriminal immigrants who come to their attention, such as those released last week.

An immigrant who, for example, has been stopped for—but not convicted of—a minor traffic offense should not be held in jail. Other forms of monitoring, akin to those used for probation, are sufficient. This is what a humane, civilized justice system does—and it allows enforcement resources to be focused on real threats.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) doesn’t get much credit, but it deserves it in this case. The critics on the Hill aren’t going to vote for immigration reform anyway. DHS should ignore them.

To learn more about this issue, read “Daily Costs of Detaining Immigrants Led to Releases” in the National Journal.


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