Everywhere you look, the looming sequestration is prompting gloom and doom. Universities are warning of layoffs. The Seattle School District says it will lose funds for poor kids and those with special needs. President Barack Obama tells us the automatic cuts will mean less first responders, jeopardizing our ability to recover from national disasters.
So you may be surprised to learn that sequestration has an upside.
The prospect of sequestration has prompted the feds to start saving money by releasing several hundred immigrants who have been held in detention facilities across the country. These immigrants are still in "removal proceedings," meaning they are at risk for deportation, according to Andrew Mu?oz, spokesperson for the Seattle office of U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement. But he says they have been placed "on methods of supervision less costly than detention."
At the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Mu?oz says, the feds pay roughly $100 per person a day for most detainees.
Mu?oz won't say how many immigrants, if any, have been released from the Tacoma facility in particular. But Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, says he has heard rumors that 40 to 50 detainees have walked out the door.
"While this is of course a positive step for those families, it's still a relatively limited number compared to the overall capacity of the facility," Baron says.
As of yesterday morning, the Tacoma detention center held 1,295 detainees, according to Mu?oz. That reflects a tremendous build-up over the past decade. In 2006, when we wrote a cover story on the facility, it held 525 immigrants, which even then constituted a dramatic expansion over previous years.
Still, conservation politicians are apoplectic over any releases, and take a cynical view.
"It's abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, according to the Associated Press. "By releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the Administration is needlessly endangering American lives.
What Goodlatte fails to recognize is that "illegal" immigrants are not criminals; immigration law is a civil not criminal matter. And obviously it's wildly hyperbolic to depict such immigrants as a threat to American lives.
In fact, as even some conservatives recognize these days, undocumented immigrants are deeply intertwined with Americans. Many are parents of citizens, meaning they're actually responsible for protecting, not harming, American lives. Some detainees could even be citizens themselves, as we showed in our 2006 story and again in 2008, the latter time reporting on an American veteran who was mistakenly held at the facility for seven months.
So as far as it affects detention centers, bring on the sequestration!