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U.S. frees detained migrants as budget cuts loom

AFP-JIJI

U.S. authorities revealed Tuesday that they have released hundreds of detained immigrants in recent days to trim expenses ahead of massive automatic budget cuts due to take effect this week.

With days to go before the so-called sequester — $85 billion in across-the-board cuts — takes effect, federal agencies are tightening belts as feuding lawmakers appear unable to reach a better-tailored fiscal deal.

Noting the “fiscal uncertainty” generated by the onset of the cuts, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said the agency had been forced to reduce its detention population.

“Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention,” she said.

The ICE, which is charged with deporting undocumented immigrants, has some 30,000 detainees detained across the country, agency sources said.

The agency carried out a record 1.2 million deportations during President Barack Obama’s first term. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S., many of whom have lived here for several years.

A bipartisan group of senators has been working to craft an immigration reform bill, with many Republicans desperate to shore up Hispanic support. But the effort is one of the few issues where bipartisan agreement may be possible in a divided Washington that has thus far been unable to avert the sequester cuts.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has warned that the sequester would result in the equivalent of 5,000 fewer border patrol agents, out of a total force of 21,000.