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Arizona lawmakers irked by feds’ release of hundreds of illegal immigrants

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WASHINGTON – Arizona Republicans blasted a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decision to release hundreds of illegal immigrants in anticipation of March 1 budget cuts, with one calling it “pure political posturing.”

“I’m appalled to learn the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to release hundreds of illegal aliens from custody,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is pure political posturing and the height of absurdity given that the releases are being granted before the federal sequestration cuts have even gone into effect,” she said.

The immigration agency announced this week that “in order to make the best use of our limited detention resources in the current fiscal climate … ICE has directed field offices to review the detained population to ensure it is in line with available funding.”

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a prepared statement Tuesday that “over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention.”

Published reports said that released individuals may be put on parole or home detention.

Christensen’s statement said all those released were still in removal proceedings and the priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and those who pose a risk to public safety.

The releases come as the Obama administration is warning of the impact of automatic federal budget cuts set to take effect Friday under the “sequester,” unless Congress and the White House can work out a long-term budget deal.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was at the White House Monday saying her department “would not be able to maintain the 34,000 detention beds as required by Congress” if the cuts are allowed to take effect.

“All I can say is, look, we’re doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester. But there’s only so much I can do,” she said according to a transcript of the briefing. “I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration. How do I pay for those?”

Members of Arizona’s House delegation could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. But both of the state’s senators were unhappy with the department’s release of illegal immigrants.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, “Was this really the only way to save money?” with a link to a news story on the release.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., released a statement Tuesday evening, deploring the decision by the Department of Homeland Security.

“With more than $1 trillion in budget deficits, there are many opportunities to rein in federal spending,” Flake’s statement said. “Releasing hundreds of detainees who have violated the law is most certainly not one of them.

“This was a deeply misguided move by DHS,” he said.