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Due to looming federal budget cuts, some immigration detainees are released nationwide

Posted Feb 26, 2013 5:15 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Federal immigration officials say they have been releasing an unspecified number of detainees being held for deportation because of massive mandatory budget cuts that are scheduled to begin Friday if Congress doesn't act in the meantime to prevent them.

Although a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman says those let go will be on "an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release," historically many individuals in this status have failed to show for subsequent court appearances, according to the New York Times (reg. req.) and the Washington Post.

One man who had been held at the Polk Detention Center in Livingston, Texas, where about 50 detainees were released, said he and others hadn't committed major infractions, the San Antonio Express-News reported, relying on an email from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.

“Lots of us are getting out who were brought in for driving without a license or other small things,” said Manuel Perez, as quoted by the organization.

The so-called sequester or sequestration reduction of the federal budget by $85 billion will include $1.6 billion to be chopped out of U.S. Department of Justice funding, which is expected to impact the federal prison system generally. While painful, this development also offers an opportunity for those in charge to deal with excessive incarceration of those who really did not need to be prosecuted to begin with, two experts contend in an opinion piece in The Hill's Congress Blog.

"The Justice Department should use its authority to prioritize evidence-based programs and policies that actually protect public safety. Regardless of whether sequestration takes effect, this approach will help the Justice Department increase both the fiscal health and effectiveness of the eternally cash-strapped agency," write Inimai M. Chettiar is the Director of the Brennan Center's Justice ProgramInimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program and Ethan Nadelmann founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "ABA House backs adequate funding for courts, LSC amid federal budget cuts"

Money & Co. (Los Angeles Times): "Bernanke warns Congress that budget cuts pose danger to economy "

L.A. Now (Los Angeles Times): "Paroled sex offenders removing tracking devices"

Truthout: "States Cut Prison Budgets but Not Prison Populations"

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