By Lindsey Collom, The Arizona Republic
Arizona officials are demanding answers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton about the recent "mass release" of immigration detainees they say has undermined public safety and trust in the federal government.
Gov. Jan. Brewer has also directed two of her senior officials to file public-records requests in an attempt to get clarification about the numbers of detainees released and who ordered it, because it "seems like we can't get any information from the horse's mouth."
Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Robert Halliday and state Department of Homeland Security Director Gilbert Orrantia complained to Morton in a letter sent Friday that they have yet to receive any official notification from ICE and that they need information to "better protect and serve Arizonans."
"Based on statements by DHS on their current enforcement priorities, we assume that many of these aliens have committed criminal infractions," the letter said. "Please understand that releasing criminal aliens onto the streets of Arizona cities and towns, especially without any notice, undermines public safety and undermines the public's faith in government's ability to carry out its most fundamental function."
In their public-records request, Halliday and Orrantia asked Morton to tell the state how many ICE detainees were released from custody in Arizona, what their criminal backgrounds are, how they are being monitored, and who gave the orders for their release.
State officials also want to know why local law enforcement weren't told about ICE's plan to put a number of detainees on supervised release in the face of federal budget cuts that kicked in Friday. White House officials and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have also claimed to be in the dark.
ICE officials have said they released 303 detainees in Arizona in the days leading up to sequestration.
Napolitano on Monday disputed an Associated Press report last week that said more than 2,000 detainees were released in several states. Politico quoted her as saying "several hundred" low-risk detainees were released, not "thousands."
"With sequestration looming and the end of the (continuing resolution) in a couple weeks, it's like the perfect storm," Napolitano told Politico. "We really have to manage so many different things because we don't have a budget."
Brewer said she has no reason to believe that ICE officials misrepresented the number of detainees placed on supervised probation, but she expects that more detainees will be released into the community despite assurances from immigration officials last week that they've stopped - at least for now. Sequester cuts could prompt the release of additional detainees.
"How many more are coming down the pike?" Brewer said Monday.
Halliday and Orrantia say it's difficult to know what's true and want Morton to clear up the confusion.
Some answers could come this week. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, asked Morton for similar information and demanded a response by Wednesday.
The Arizona Republic