Rush Limbaugh slammed the Obama administration for releasing some detained undocumented immigrants, claiming the decision was a "political ploy" and an "illegal order." In fact, undocumented immigrants who pose little threat to public safety have routinely been released into a supervised program as they await deportation since at least 2002, when Congress authorized the use of such programs to facilitate the deportation process.
On February 25, citing budgetary concerns, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that it had released some undocumented immigrants from detention facilities and into a supervised release program but that deportation proceedings against them would continue. As The New York Times reported, those slated for release were "non-criminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories" and added:
"Under supervised release, defendants in immigration cases have to adhere to a strict reporting schedule that might include attending appointments at a regional immigration office as well as wearing electronic monitoring bracelets, officials said."
But on his radio show on Thursday, Limbaugh attacked the decision as "strictly a political ploy" by the Obama administration, claiming the administration had released "hardened criminals" into U.S. communities and that whoever had made the decision gave an "illegal order."
In reality, there is nothing unusual or illegal about supervised releases. This policy has been a regular part of Department of Homeland Security enforcement procedures since at least 2002, as this 2011 DHS report notes:
In FY 2002, Congress authorized the use of alternatives to detention programs as a mechanism to facilitate alien compliance with attendance at immigration court hearings and departure from the United States. The program allows certain aliens whose detention is not statutorily mandated to remain in their communities while their removal process is pending. ERO's Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program meets this critical need for community supervision of the non-detained alien population using technology and case specialists to actively engage aliens until a final determination of their immigration status can be made.
The ATD program releases detainees (called "participants" in the ATD program) who are not required by statute to be detained. Prior to enrollment in the program, ERO officers vet the individuals to ensure that they are eligible to participate. Those who are eligible to participate choose whether or not they want to participate in the program. Those who choose to participate sign the rules of participation indicating their willingness to comply and those who do not want to participate are housed in a detention facility.
In a 2011 report that examined ICE's decision-making process for whether to detain or release undocumented immigrants, the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General found that "ICE officers made reasonable decisions regarding the appropriate levels of supervision and complied with requirements of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act], Supreme Court decisions, and prescribed policies and procedures." Noting that ICE "has limited detention resources and prioritizes cases to detain aliens subject to mandatory detention before other aliens," the OIG concluded that "ICE's process and procedures to screen aliens to determine the appropriate levels of supervision are generally well designed and being followed."
Each year thousands of immigrants are given supervised release and their effectiveness is growing. The National Immigration Forum explained in an August 2008 release, that "as of June 8, 2012 there were 23,289 individuals enrolled" in ICE's supervised release programs up from 18,960 total individuals in 2011.
These programs have also been deemed more cost effective -- if ICE limited its detention use to violent criminals only, the agency could save an estimated $1.6 billion annually. In addition, studies have found that immigrants in these supervised release programs are 90 percent more likely to show up for their final court hearings.