As the Obama Administration spun nightmare scenarios over the impact of sequester cuts, it was revealed that Homeland Security had released from custody illegal immigrants who were charged with crimes. The White House said these actions were taken in expectation of the looming cuts, but dismissed concerns, saying just "a few hundred" criminals were released. The Associated Press, however, reported late Friday that 2,000 detainees had been released, with another 3,000 planned to be released this month. Who ordered the releases?
The White House has stated that they were not informed of the decision to release the criminal detainees. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also demurred when asked about the releases, "detainee populations and how that is managed back and forth is really handled by career officials in the field." Napolitano told ABC, "do I wish that this all hadn't been done all of a sudden and so that people weren't surprised by it? Of course."
The problem with plans to release 5,000 detainees is not that it was done suddenly or took people by surprise. The problem is with the plan itself and the fact that it was apparently made without senior management involvement. One would expect that a decision to release more than 16% of criminal suspects held by the Department would rise above "career officials in the field."
If a local law enforcement agency is facing budget cuts, the Chief of Police or Sheriff doesn't have the authority to simply release criminal suspects in custody. He or she would at least have to go before a judge and request that the Judge offer the suspects a bail hearing.
There are more questions that Congress needs to investigate, beyond who specifically ordered the detainees release. What other authority do "career officers in the field" have before informing HQ of their decisions? Did these officers notify local law enforcement that they were releasing the criminal suspects? By what process did they decide whom to release? What steps are they taking to keep track of the detainees?
Presumably, the Department wanted to make a political point about the effect of budget cuts. At some point, however, public safety has to trump politics. The Administration's cavalier approach to the sequester is dangerous.
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