Hundreds or thousands? Feds conflict, contradict on detainees freed

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Hundreds or thousands? Feds conflict, contradict on detainees freed

CREATED Mar 18, 2013

Reporter: Kevin Keen

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - At first, the feds told the country it was "several hundred." Now, they say number of illegal immigrants freed from custody to save money is actually more than 2,000. KGUN9 News wanted to know: What didn't the public hear the real number right away and who's accountable?

The story started with an exclusive Associated Press story stating, “Homeland Security Department released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants facing deportation from immigration jails in recent weeks because of looming budget cuts. It also planned to release 3,000 more during March.”

DHS Security Secretary Janet Napolitano denied that report.

"It says we released 2,000 detainees because of sequester. That is really not accurate," she said at an event in mid-February.

"As in all things immigration, it develops its own mythology," she explained. "Here's the deal: We are constantly, as the secretaries know, moving people in and out of detention."

Napolitano claimed the detainees numbered in the hundreds.

Friday, the director of Immigration Customs and Enforcement -- the DHS department responsible for the detainees -- testified to members of Congress with a different number.

"We released 2,228 aliens over a three-week period in February for solely budgetary reasons," said Director John Morton. 

Why the difference?

KGUN9 called and emailed ICE in Phoenix and DHS in Washington, D.C. Each pointed to the other to answer the question, which remains unanswered.

ICE told KGUN9 it freed 342 illegal immigrants in Arizona as part of the mass release. The agency said all detainees are supervised and will still continue through court proceedings.