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With cuts looming, US freeing illegal immigrants

President Obama, speaking at a shipyard where the nation’s aircraft carriers are built, blasted Washington politics for the budget impasse and the threat it presents to workers’ jobs.AFP/Getty images

WASHINGTON — A week before mandatory budget cuts go into effect across the government, the Department of Homeland Security has started releasing illegal immigrants being held in immigration jails across the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday.

Gillian Christensen, an agency spokeswoman, said it has reviewed several hundred cases of immigrants being held and released them in the last week. They have been ‘‘placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release,’’ she said.

Christensen said the agency’s ‘‘priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.’’ She did not say how released immigrants were selected or what jails they were released from.


Tuesday’s announcement of the releases is the first tangible impact of the looming budget cuts for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Obama administration has been issuing dire warnings about the impact of the sequestration and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters at the White House on Monday that across-the-board cuts would affect the department’s core operations, including border security and airport screening operations.

She also warned that the department might not be able to afford to keep the 34,000 immigration jail beds mandated by Congress. On average last week, there were 30,773 people being held in immigration jails.

According to the National Immigration Forum, it costs the government about $164 a day to keep an illegal immigrant facing deportation jailed. In a report on immigration detention costs last year the advocacy group said costs for supervised release can range from about 30 cents to $14 a day.

Republicans lawmakers decried the releases Tuesday.

‘‘It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,’’ said Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. ‘‘By releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the administration is needlessly endangering American lives.’’


Christensen said released immigrants would still face deportation proceedings.

President Obama appealed to congressional Republicans on Tuesday to pass legislation delaying or softening the budget cuts. He traveled to Newport News, Va., where he stood in the facility that builds the country’s aircraft carriers, and warned that reductions in the Pentagon budget threatens the jobs of thousands of workers.

‘‘These cuts are wrong.’’ he said. “They’re not smart. They are not fair.’’


Former state lawmaker wins primary for Jackson’s seat

CHICAGO — Former Illinois legislator Robin Kelly captured the Democratic nomination Tuesday in the race to replace disgraced former representative Jesse Jackson Jr., after a truncated campaign season in which she got a boost from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC.

The nomination all but assures that she will sail through the April 9 general election because the district is overwhelmingly Democratic.

The Republican nomination was also being chosen Tuesday night.

From a crowded field of candidates in the Chicago-area district, Kelly emerged early as a leader on gun-control issues. The former state representative from Matteson, a south Chicago suburb, favors an assault weapons ban.

During the campaign, Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA, poured more than $2 million into the race by airing antigun ads in her favor and against another Democratic front-runner, former representative Debbie Halvorson, who opposes such a ban.

Guns were a leading issue at candidate forums and e-mail blasts from candidates, even as Jackson’s legal saga played out in court and frustrated voters who’ve seen two other congressmen in the office leave under an ethical or legal cloud.


Jackson resigned in November, after a months-long medical leave for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues, then pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges that accused him of misspending $750,000 in campaign money on lavish personal items, including a Rolex watch and fur coats.

Jackson’s exit created a rare opening in a district where he was first elected in 1995.

The primary featured 14 Democrats, including former representative Mel Reynolds, who held the seat in the 1990s but served prison time after being convicted of fraud and for having sex with an underage campaign volunteer.

There were four Republicans on the ballot.