Budget Impasse Leads to Releases at Tacoma Immigration Lockup

By Liz Jones

Sequestration has apparently led to a “get out of jail free” card for some detainees at an immigration lockup in Tacoma.

With budget cuts looming, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it’s shifting some detainees around the country to supervised release.

The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is the area’s main holding facility for immigrants facing deportation. Immigration officials in Seattle declined to comment about how people there have been released in recent days. But an attorney who works with detainees there says she’s heard an estimate.

Tao: “Some of the guards just kind of ball-parked that maybe 50 people or so were being released but we don’t know how accurate that is.”

Betsy Tao is an attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma. She’s also getting information about the releases from people who are still locked up.

Tao: “The detainees we spoke to just reported that people are getting released. Of course they want to know why they aren’t the ones getting released.”

Tao’s also talked to other attorneys whose clients were surprised they got to go home.

Tao: “So this is definitely an unusual thing.”

Immigrant advocates around the country started reporting similar releases this weekend. Hundreds of low-risk detainees were reportedly let go from some detention centers.

Immigration officials confirmed some of the information Tuesday. They said that several hundred immigrants being held in jails have been released. And that they’ve been placed on a more cost-effective form of supervision.

That means the immigrants still need to routinely check-in with federal authorities…and they’ll still face deportation proceedings.

The jail releases are one of the first visible signs of how impending budget cuts will affect the Department of Homeland Security.

Tao says the releases are welcome news, since people have much greater access to legal resources once they’re no longer behind bars.

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