Friday, March 15, 2013
Obama administration acknowledges releasing more than 2,000 illegal immigrants for budget reasons
After weeks of denials, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday that it had, in fact, released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants from immigration jails due to budget concerns during three weeks in February. Four of the most serious offenders have been put back in detention.
The administration had insisted that only a "few hundred" immigrants were released for budgetary reasons, challenging as inaccurate a March 1 report by The Associated Press that the agency had released more than 2,000 immigrants in February and planned to release more than 3,000 others this month. Intense criticism led to a temporary shutdown of the plan.
The director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, told a congressional panel Thursday that the agency had actually released 2,228 people from immigration jails over the course of three weeks, starting February 9, for what he described as "solely budgetary reasons." They included 10 people considered the highest level of offender.
After the administration had challenged the AP's reporting, ICE said it didn't know how many people had been released for budget reasons but would review its records.
Morton, who testified with two other agency officials, told lawmakers that the decision to release the immigrants was not discussed in advance with political appointees, including those in the White House and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He said the pending automatic cuts known as sequestration was "driving in the background."
"We were trying to live within the budget that Congress had provided us," Morton told lawmakers. "This was not a White House call. I take full responsibility."
The House appropriations subcommittee chairman, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, pressed Morton about the agency's claims that immigrants were routinely released, and Morton acknowledged that the release of more than 2,000 immigrants was not routine.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had previously dismissed reports about thousands of immigrants being released. 'Several hundred are related to sequester, but it wasn't thousands,' she said.
"At the time this release started, the president of the United States was going around the country telling people what the pain was going to be from sequester," Carter said. "That's a fact. That was the atmosphere. It was Chicken Little, the sky is falling, almost."
Morton told Carter that more immigrants were released in Texas than in any other state but did not name other states where they were released.
Morton said that although the most serious offender category can include people convicted of aggravated felonies, many of those released were facing financial crimes. Those released include immigrants who had faced multiple drunken driving offenses, misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses, Morton said.
The AP, citing internal budget documents, reported exclusively that the administration had released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants since at least Feb. 15 and planned to release 3,000 more in March due to looming budget cuts. Napolitano said days later that the AP's report was "not really accurate" and that the story had developed "its own mythology."
"Several hundred are related to sequester, but it wasn't thousands," Napolitano said March 4 at a Politico-sponsored event.
On March 5, the House Judiciary Committee publicly released an internal ICE document that it said described the agency's plans to release thousands of illegal immigrants before March 31. The document was among those reviewed independently by the AP for its story days earlier.
The immigrants who were released still eventually face deportation and are required to appear for upcoming court hearings. But they are no longer confined in immigration jails, where advocacy experts say they cost about $164 per day per person. Immigrants who are granted supervised release — with conditions that can include mandatory check-ins, home visits and GPS devices — cost the government from 30 cents to $14 a day, according to the National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants.
Senate group considers large reduction in family visas as part of immigration deal
Key senators are developing plans that would make it harder for U.S. citizens to get visas for their family members while easing the path for more high-skilled foreign workers, according to aides and advocates familiar with negotiations over an emerging immigration deal.
The plans — which would run counter to policies that have been in place for generations — are part of ongoing talks between a bipartisan group of eight senators, whose bill is expected to serve as the template for a comprehensive immigration deal between Congress and the White House.
The senators agree that a limited number of people should be allowed into the country each year; the question is who those people should be. Currently, about two-thirds of legal immigrants are admitted for family reasons and 14 percent for employment, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The rest are humanitarian cases.
Republicans would prefer to admit greater numbers of high-skilled workers, who business leaders say are in short supply and who would provide an immediate economic benefit. Democrats generally favor giving priority to family members of citizens and legal residents already in the country, saying they provide support networks that help families thrive.
As it stands, spouses and minor children of citizens are given top priority, followed by unmarried children over 21 and, lastly, married adult children and siblings. The Senate proposal would eliminate the latter two categories altogether, which add up to about 90,000 visas per year. Those people could still apply for entry into the country but would need other qualifications, such as high-tech skills, to be approved for a green card.
Senators involved in the negotiations stress no final decision has been made. But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a leader in the talks, said in an interview Thursday that “we’re going to change fundamentally the immigration system,” including tighter limits on family visas.
“Right now you get green cards to adult children, to grandparents,” Graham said. “What I want to do is reserve green cards based on the economic needs of the country, and we’ll do something for families. But the goal for me is to replace a chained migration immigration system with an economic-based immigration system.”
The group of senators, which includes four Democrats and four Republicans, has said it will release a comprehensive bill in early April. The Obama administration has expressed support for the group’s general principles.
The proposed changes to the family system have angered immigration advocates, who warn the move could threaten the chances of a broader reform agreement.
“Eliminating these categories would produce only a small reduction in visas while creating greater hardship for thousands of U.S. citizens and their loved ones,” two dozen members of the House Asian Pacific American caucus wrote in a letter to the eight senators last week. “We oppose any efforts to further limit the definition of family.”
The family visa program has been largely overshadowed by fierce public debate over a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants and an expanded guest worker program for foreigners. But potential changes to the family visa program, which has a waiting list of 4.3 million people, also will play a pivotal role in any agreement reached by Congress and the White House.
Posted by jonjayray at 8:56 AM