'They are facing a danger': Sheriff says Arizonans not safe after detainee release

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'They are facing a danger': Sheriff says Arizonans not safe after detainee release

CREATED Mar 18, 2013 - UPDATED: Mar 19, 2013

Reporter: Kevin Keen

FLORENCE, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - An Arizona sheriff said there's a clear safety concern for people in the state. The federal agency in charge said that's not the case. KGUN9 News looked at the concerns and possible risks of the feds' decision to release illegal immigrants.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement made that decision last month ahead of sequester budget cuts. Now, ICE reveals a number of those 2,228 people are convicted criminals.

Of the 342 released in Arizona, according to the agency, 220 had no convictions. Ninety-one of them had been convicted of a misdemeanor or similar offense. Thirty had been convicted of a felony or similar offense. One committed a crime or crimes considered the most serious.

An agency spokeswoman told KGUN9 she had no information on the specific crimes committed.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said "whistleblowers" have given him those details.

"We have direct information from ICE -- federal agents here in Pinal County -- that those who were released had convictions -- not just charges," Babeu said. "(They had) convictions for weapons violations, for narcotics trafficking, for drug smuggling. (They're) members of the cartels."

Babeu argued the mass release, most of which happened in his county, puts people in danger.

"Those are not low-risk, nonviolent offenders," he added. "These are very serious criminals."

Babeu explained the public safety concern is if the convicts would reoffend after release.

"I believe that they are facing a danger," he said, referring to people in his county.

The director of ICE told Congress that's not the case.

"These releases focused on aliens who were not subject to mandatory detention and did not pose a significant threat to public safety," Director John Morton said.

An ICE spokeswoman said the agency looked at every case and took public safety into account before making a decision.

Still, Morton admitted ten serious offenders around the country should not have been freed. He blamed a computer glitch and said some had been recaptured.

Babeu and other elected leaders like Senator John McCain are demanding more answers and wrote letters to DHS. As of Monday, neither had heard back.