The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) announcement that it will release thousands of illegal immigrant detainees has led left-wing activists to criticize the administration’s immigration policy and suggest the announcement was political in nature.
The criticisms mirrored those leveled by opponents of amnesty proposals and pro-enforcement advocates, signaling a broad ideological opposition to the move.
The DHS announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must reduce its illegal immigrant detainee populations by 26 percent sparked major pushback among lawmakers and immigration policy groups, forcing the White House to deny any prior knowledge of the decision.
While groups on the left and right objected to different aspects of the administration’s policy on immigration, dissatisfaction with that policy spanned ideological lines.
Both sides of the political spectrum suggested that the administration used the release of illegal immigrant detainees to bolster its political case against impending sequestration cuts, which DHS cited as the impetus for those releases.
Illegal immigrants "are now being used as a weapon in the debate over the federal budget," said Van Le, a spokesperson for America’s Voice, a group that advocates granting citizenship to all illegal immigrants.
That statement echoed comments by Pinal County, Ariz., Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose vocal opposition to illegal immigrant amnesty policies and support for stronger enforcement measures make him an unlikely ally of left-wing immigration groups.
"The safety of the public is threatened and the rule of law discarded as a political tactic in this sequester battle," Babeu said in a news release on Tuesday.
Congressional Republicans agreed that the move was political in nature.
"Using the sequester as an excuse to initiate this unprecedented mass release of illegal immigrants is a patently political and deliberative move that undermines law enforcement and places our nation’s security at risk," stated Rep. Diane Black (R., Tenn.) in a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Napolitano insists that sequestration cuts will force ICE to downsize its detainee population, but ICE was reportedly ordered to reduce that population by 26 percent, a significantly greater reduction than the 5.3 percent budget cuts mandated under the sequester.
Others criticized DHS from a policy perspective, noting that the detainee releases fit with a longstanding aversion to illegal immigration enforcement by the administration.
While they disagreed on the specific policy objections, left-wing immigration advocates also used the detainee releases to highlight objections to administration policy on immigration.
DHS insisted that it only released "low-priority" detainees, though other immigration policy groups have disputed that claim. The department’s statement drew fire from groups on the left.
The department’s position, Le said, "begs the question of why those people were in detention facilities in the first place."
Other left-wing groups echoed that sentiment.
"Low-priority individuals—people who pose absolutely no risk or danger to society, but rather are upstanding members of their communities and families—should not have been locked up to begin with," said a spokesperson for the pro-amnesty group United We Dream.
Those objections notwithstanding, a host of criminals were reportedly among the detainees ICE announced it would release.
ICE did not return multiple requests for comment.