Using Sequestration to Harm The American People

We understand why Republicans permitted sequestration to occur: they didn’t want higher taxes to bridge the deficit; rather, they sought cuts in entitlements. After all, Republicans had already caved in to higher taxes to end the fiscal-cliff crisis. Yielding to higher taxes again would have forced the GOP to sacrifice an almost sacred ideological principle and betray a position which they were elected to uphold.

We also understand why the Democrats allowed the clock to run out and sequestration to take place. Democrats are fearful that cuts to entitlements will hurt those who need it most and dramatic cuts in federal spending would put the brakes on lurching economic growth. Some economists believe that cuts to federal spending would catapult the economy back into recession.

With both parties refusing to yield on ideological grounds, sequestration has gone into effect. Budget cuts will strain the ability of some federal agencies to perform their duties, as the president has warned. We get that.

What we don’t understand or excuse is how, during the last several weeks, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement irresponsibly released hundreds — possibly thousands — of illegal immigrants from prisons in anticipation of sequestration. ICE, purportedly to save money, has not only freed these immigrants but also did not inform some local officials of the release, sowing confusion and outrage among law enforcement authorities.

Justifiably, in a blistering letter to Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Arizona, wrote: “Protocol and logic should have required your staff to formally notify me, as the top law enforcement official in the county where this occurred, about this mass release of hundreds of foreign criminals into my county and elsewhere, yet regrettably this never happened.”

In some locations, officials were informed of the release, but were not told how many illegal immigrants would now be on the streets of their jurisdictions. That means there are thousands of individuals with no legal status whom the DHS has deliberately released back into the system. They cannot legally get a job, pay little or no taxes on the income they do earn, and often turn to food stamps and welfare for support. In some cases they resort to crime.

Make no mistake. This is undeniably a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have always been the lifeblood of U.S. prosperity and greatness. And it’s important that those looking to escape persecution or construct a better future for themselves have a place of refuge. Additionally, many illegal immigrants perform jobs that few Americans would be willing to do, and take low wages to do them.

We fully support immigration reform that would provide a path to legal status and ultimately citizenship for illegal immigrants who are contributing to the nation. However, until such time as reform is passed, said illegals are in violation of the nation’s statutes, and it is the duty of law enforcement to uphold the law.

To use sequestration as a pretext to release those breaking the law smacks of an underhanded way to push forward an agenda of total amnesty to illegal immigrants without any preconditions. That approach is harmful to both the immigrants and the locales where they will live. Without legal documentation, these immigrants will be either exploited by those who will pay them low wages or, in the face of being unable to get a job, will have to exploit the system by taking welfare, Medicaid and food stamp benefits. Released into an environment without legal status, they will continue to have to play a cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement officials.

The Obama administration has insisted that it knew nothing about the release of the illegal immigrants, and that it was an independent decision made by ICE. It also has insisted that those released from detention pose little risk to the U.S. That’s a lame excuse. The executive branch of government is empowered to execute the laws, and it has to bear full responsibility when laws are breached. If neither the president nor the head of DHS knew, then who did? And why should such lower levels of government have the right to repudiate laws without informing Congress, the cabinet or the President?

Declaring that those released represent little risk to the U.S. has been disputed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Grassley has reported that hundreds of those released have been convicted of fraud, theft and drunken driving. If true, DHS, the agency thatsupposed to protect the American people, has deliberately put them in harm’s way. Certainly, there are numerous other programs to cut to cover the mandatory budget cuts. What we need is a true budget compromise to address a runaway $16 trillion deficit, not irresponsible cuts to programs in a way that compromises the safety of the American people.