Paul Babeau, sheriff of Pinal County, called the releases a “mass budget pardon” that would put criminals on the streets. “These are aliens with felony convictions, who have been released into my county,” he said in an interview. Babeau said about 50 illegal immigrants had been freed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from the Pinal County jail, which he oversees, “without warning and under cloak of secrecy. It’s outrageous.”
Several human rights organizations and legal aid groups here said the freed immigrants posed no threat to the public, had not committed serious offenses and should have been freed long ago rather than being kept in custody at government expense. They described some of the immigrants as innocent victims of Arizona’s strict law, in which local police are required in many cases to turn over suspected illegal immigrants to federal officials.
“These people should have been released a long time ago,” said Sarah Lanius, a spokeswoman for No More Deaths, a non-profit group in Tucson that runs free legal clinics for illegal immigrants. “Every person who comes to our clinic is out on bond from detention and following through on their removal proceedings,” she said. “They were stopped in silly traffic cases or other situations, and they have no business being put through all this. It is a direct contradiction of what the administration promised.”
Lindsay Marshall, executive director of a group called the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, echoed this opinion. She said her staff members regularly meet and counsel detainees at all four of Arizona’s detention facilities and that many have no need to be in custody. About 2,300 immigrants are still in custody across the state after this week’s releases.
“There are a lot of people in detention who simply don’t need to be there,” Marshall said. She declined to identify anyone who had been released, but she said many were people who had minor criminal convictions, if any, as well as strong family ties in the United States. “There are alternatives to incarceration that are both less punitive and expensive,” she said. “These are mostly people ICE categorizes as low level, and we definitely think this should be a lot wider.”