Immigration and Customs Enforcement's release of more than 2,000 immigrant detainees in early 2013 wasn't particularly extraordinary, according to an investigation into the matter.
Senator John McCain has alleged that public safety was put at risk by the releases, and Governor Jan Brewer said she believed the releases were the Obama Administration's attempt to "punish" Arizona for having tough immigration laws.
According to the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, the situation was "problematic" from an administrative standpoint, but the report says local ICE offices "applied selection criteria and processes appropriately" in deciding which detainees to release.
The releases were done in response to a budget shortfall at ICE, and the inspector general faults the agency for not telling Homeland Security or the President's office about its plan to release this many detainees at once.
However, investigators didn't find anything particularly wrong with the detainees the regional ICE offices decided to release:
"Between February 9 and March 1, 2013, Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices released some aliens with criminal convictions whose detention was statutorily required. However, field offices did not release aliens they considered a danger to the community. Given the short timeframe of the releases and the mandate from ICE headquarters to do so, Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office Directors applied selection criteria and processes appropriately. Enforcement and Removal Operations officers reviewed their own detained alien dockets to determine the best candidates for release. Enforcement and Removal Operations supervisory field officers reviewed each release recommendation."
After this report was released, McCain slammed the Obama Administration for the release of more than 600 detainees who had previous criminal convictions.
"The safety of our border communities shouldn't be put at risk because ICE officials decide to release detainees--many with criminal records--in order to solve their budget problems without waiting to see if they could obtain more funding," McCain said in a statement.
Again, the inspector general's office found that, "ICE executive leadership requested that ICE attorneys conduct two reviews of aliens categorized as aggravated felons or felons. ICE officials leading and participating in these reviews concluded that [Enforcement and Removal Operations] officers made reasonable release decisions given the short timeframe."
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, McCain, along with Senator Jeff Flake, state that "54 of the released detainees had to be recaptured after ICE officials reviewed their files."
Again, that doesn't tell the whole story. According to the IG's report, "Many redetained aliens were ill, had served their sentences more than a decade earlier, were non‐violent offenders, or were final order cases and would require release within a few months."
The letter from McCain and Flake also associates the releases with crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants who've been deported multiple times:
"Post-apprehension policies with regard to detainees are even more important in the criminal detainee context. Just a week ago, two undocumented immigrants from Mexico--who have reportedly each been deported multiple times--were rearrested and charged with the first-degree murder of off-duty U.S. Border Patrol Agent Javier Vega, Jr., in Texas. Last month, an undocumented immigrant who had been deported four times was able to reenter the United States and remain undiscovered until the day he was arrested for molesting a nine-year old girl. In May, an undocumented immigrant with prior criminal convictions in the U.S. was driving on the wrong side of the road with three times the legal blood-alcohol content when he struck and killed Sergeant Brandon Mendoza of the Mesa Police Department. These incidents come a year after another previously deported undocumented immigrant killed Phoenix police officer Daryl Raetz in a hit-and-run collision."
There's been no indication that any of these suspects were part of the early 2013 ICE releases, and we've asked McCain's office to clarify that. A spokeswoman told New Times this morning to e-mail our questions, and we didn't get an immediate response.
That said, the ICE field office in Phoenix did release more immigrants with criminal records than any other field office in the country.
Federal law outlines which unauthorized immigrants with criminal records are subject to "mandatory detention," and the IG's report doesn't claim ICE violated these laws.
This IG report doesn't make a fuss about which immigrants ICE decided to release, but does blast the agency for its handling of the budget -- which isn't quite as scandalous as a conspiracy by the Obama Administration to make Governor Brewer mad.
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