The immigrants who were released still eventually face deportation and are required to appear for upcoming court hearings. But they are no longer confined in immigration jails, where advocacy experts say they cost about $164 per day per person. Immigrants who are granted supervised release — with conditions that can include mandatory check-ins, home visits and GPS devices — cost the government from 30 cents to $14 a day, according to the National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants.
The release of thousands from immigration jails is consistent with Napolitano's early warnings on Monday — hours before anyone knew publicly that any illegal immigrants had been released — that the pending, automatic budget cuts known as the sequester would limit the government's ability to maintain enough detention center beds for at least 34,000 immigrants.
"We're doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester, but there's only so much I can do," Napolitano said Monday. "You know, I'm supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration. How do I pay for those?"
Late Thursday, after intense criticism over what the administration acknowledged was the release this week of several hundred immigrants, Napolitano told ABC News that she had been surprised to learn about the action.
"Detainee populations and how that is managed back and forth is really handled by career officials in the field," Napolitano told ABC. "Do I wish that this all hadn't been done all of a sudden and so that people weren't surprised by it? Of course."
The announcement that a few hundred illegal immigrants were being released was among the most significant and direct implications described so far by the automatic budget cuts. Republicans in Congress quickly criticized the decision and pressed the Homeland Security Department for details, including the number of illegal immigrants released and the nature of any criminal charges they were facing as part of the deportation process.