WASHINGTON — The federal government released 34 aliens from its immigration detention facility in Aurora, Colorado last month due to what they say are budget constraints.
The detainees were from Colorado and Wyoming, according to Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The nationalities of the individuals were not immediately clear.
Federal officials have indicated most of the aliens were illegal immigrants either convicted of or charged with a non-violent felony such as theft.
ICE officials have said the aliens still face deportation and are required to to appear before an upcoming court hearing, although most are likely to remain in the country. A U.S. Department of Justice official testified to Congress eight years ago that in 1996 and 2003, an Office of Inspector General report found that no more than 13 percent of non-detained aliens left the United States.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton told a congressional panel last Thursday that the agency released 2,228 individuals in facilities from February 9 to March 1 due to what he characterized as an anticipated budget shortfall from Congress.
In his written testimony, he said immigration detention facilities in early February held more than 35,000 individuals and with an expected cut of $300 million in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year, the agency needed to release individuals who were deemed “serious criminal offenders and others who pose to national security or public safety.”
Holding an individual in a immigration detention facility costs taxpayers $164 a day, according to Dan Gordon, communications manager for the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports the legalization of illegal immigrants. Monitoring aliens through a supervised release costs 30 cents to $14 a day, Gordon said.
Officials say the shortfall was the result of the sequester, the automatic, across-the-board reduction in the growth of federal spending agreed to by Congress and the White House. President Obama signed legislation authorizing the sequester nearly two years ago. At the time, Obama expressed strong support for the proposal.
Not all of the detainees were illegal immigrants, Gordon added. He noted a few have been legal residents such as asylum seekers and refugees.
The ICE has 26 detention field offices in the nation. One facility released as many as 342 individuals, Gonzalez said.