Hundreds of unauthorized immigrants released under sequestration
Posted at: 02/28/2013 10:27 PM
| Updated at: 02/28/2013 10:29 PM
By: Jill Galus, KOB Eyewitness News 4
On any given day, 34,000 undocumented immigrants are detained across the country, including in New Mexico.
About 90 percent of them do not have criminal records. They are among those being released. While they cannot believe their good fortune, a lot of Americans are wondering, what is going on.
Caught, placed in jail and viewed as criminals, many undocumented immigrants wait years in jails until their cases are heard in immigration court. But now, at least 500 do not have to. The looming federal budget cuts prompted U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to release hundreds of detainees.
"Since those border agents work so hard to do what they did and the government did that - wonderful," Holly Lopeman commented sarcastically.
"Doesn't sound like it's a very smart choice to make, I mean, in the long run it may end up costing more money to fix everything that goes on," another woman said.
In New Mexico it costs about $65 a day to house a detained undocumented immigrant. The main long-term detention center is in Oterro County.
John Lawit is an immigration attorney in Albuquerque.
"I didn't see it as an act of kindness, I didn't see it as a humanitarian act," Lawit said. "I saw it as a deliberate attempt to de-rail immigration reform."
Lawit said he worries about the unintended consequences.
"It's an invitation for more people to come when they see chaos in the administration of the immigration laws," Lawit said.
Local ICE officials could not provide KOB Eyewitness News 4 with specific numbers for how many undocumented immigrants are being released in the state, but explained they have been "placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release." That could be anything from weekly check-ins with agents to GPS ankle monitors.
But Lawit said, this dollar-saving method sends the wrong message.
"It's gonna make the broken system even more broken," he said.
Only low-risk, non-criminal detainees are being released.
Authorities emphasized, "ICE is continuing to prosecute their cases in immigration court, and when ordered, will seek their removal from the country."