(MintPress) – Federal immigration authorities announced plans to release several hundred detainees this week, a cost-cutting measure introduced as a means to save money for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The debate surrounding the release of both documented and undocumented immigrants has focused on an economic dollars-and-cents savings for the U.S. government ahead of the sequestration. Sequestration is a set of proposed $1.2 trillion in cuts to federally-funded programs over 10 years.
Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Washington, D.C., said Monday that field offices have been directed to review “several hundred cases” and release detainees to stay within a new budget. It costs about $164 a day to detain one person at a prison operated by ICE.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that cuts to the budget cuts could make it difficult for the DHS to afford 34,000 beds for immigrant detainees currently approved by Congress.
“The DHS has the authority to detain these individuals but it is not required to. The Obama administration has readily embraced detention as a means to enforce immigration laws,” said Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, assistant professor at Capital University Law School to Mint Press News.
This is part of detain-and-deport policies informing the immigration policy of President Obama. President Obama has deported more than 1.5 million people since taking office in 2008, outpacing deportations under his predecessor George W. Bush.
This is problematic given the abolition of the elementary “innocent until proven guilty” concept in cases involving immigrants. Immigrants with legal permission to be in the U.S. can still be detained for weeks or months before being released. Those holding green cards or permanent residency are among the thousands detained every day.
On average authorities detain more than 32,000 individuals every day, more than 400,000 annually. The majority of those detained are in the U.S. illegally, many are later deported.
“From a legal perspective there is nothing that precludes DHS from doing this now or at any time in the past. The detainee population has skyrocketed since 2007. That was a deliberate decision by the Bush administration and then by the Obama. DHS has said that they are willing to detain as many people as Congress will provide funding for,” Garcia Hernandez said.