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Some immigration detainees back in custody weeks after surprise release

From Gustavo Valdes, CNN
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Fri March 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than two dozen detainees who were released are back behind bars, ICE says
  • ICE: They were detained again after new violations or the discovery of additional info
  • Authorities have said the controversial release of more than 2,000 detainees will cut costs
  • Critics have said criminals are being let loose, putting Americans at risk

Ridgeland, South Carolina (CNN) -- After months in an immigration detention facility, Hector Adame was so surprised when guards said he could go that he didn't believe them.

"They had to shout (the news) at him so he would leave," his wife, Victorina, said this week.

Immigration detainee release under fire
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The family soon learned that Adame -- who had first been arrested on a drunk driving charge -- was one of more than 2,000 immigration detainees federal authorities released last month in a controversial move that officials said would cut costs as forced budget cuts loomed.

But the construction worker's joy at being released was short-lived. Now, the undocumented immigrant is back behind bars. So are more than two dozen others, according to federal officials.

"The 28 individuals were brought back into ICE custody after either violating the terms of their supervision or after the agency discovered information not available during an initial review of their case," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said in a written statement. "ICE will continue to review the terms of the release for the individuals as part of its routine practice and will reconsider conditions as necessary."

Adame was detained again after an arrest for driving without a license, his wife says, adding that she thinks authorities targeted him because they wanted to send him back to the detention facility.

"They were waiting for him," Victorina Adame says.

Debate over the decision to release detainees resurged this week at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, where some lawmakers accused the country's top immigration official of releasing detainees for political reasons.

"This release is a recipe for disaster that is irresponsible and unjustified," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who chairs the committee. "Ultimately, these nonsensical actions demonstrate the inability and lack of desire on behalf of the administration to enforce the law even against illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes."

ICE officials have said the move was made because the agency was preparing its year-end budget and had to take the $85 billion in forced government-wide budget cuts, known as sequestration, into account.

And they stressed that detainees released were non-criminals or low-risk offenders without serious criminal histories.

This week, ICE Director John Morton maintained that the measure was necessary to cut costs.

"The agency is asked to do far more than Congress could appropriate or could rationally appropriate to the agency. We are in a situation where there are 11 million people on average who are here unlawfully. The agency has resources to remove about 400,000 a year, which is less than 4% and it is why at the end of the day, I think, bipartisan efforts to come to some level of comprehensive immigration reform is the thoughtful way out," he said this week. "The agency is never going to be able to detain and remove everybody as a matter of budget nor does it make sense as a matter of policy."

Morton said the detainees that were released were not dangerous, and that he had to find some way to make ends meet.

"I did not want to rob Peter to pay Paul," he said. "My view is that we need to maintain the operations of the agency."

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican from South Carolina, criticized that explanation.

"Now, I've counted six times you have said you didn't want to rob Peter to pay Paul," Gowdy said. "I don't want Peter or Paul to rob one of our fellow citizens because you guessed wrong on who to release."

Meanwhile, Victorina Adame says she and her five children are left looking at pictures of her husband in their South Carolina home, wondering when they'll see him again and whether he'll be deported to Mexico.

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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