Saturday, June 19, 2004

AP Wire | 06/19/2004 | Federal government to release some immigration detainees in state

AP Wire | 06/19/2004 | Federal government to release some immigration detainees in state

Posted on Sat, Jun. 19, 2004
Federal government to release some immigration detainees in state
Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - The federal government plans to release hundreds of illegal immigrants who are detained in Minnesota and elsewhere, using a new home-monitoring program to keep track of them.

The $11 million pilot project, called the intensive supervision appearance program, will start Monday and is expected to last for at least several months, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

The government wants to see if it can save millions of dollars while also providing less restrictive alternatives to incarceration - such as electronic ankle bracelets, home visits and telephone check-ins - for the estimated 24,000 detainees around the country.

The agency also hopes that being able to monitor illegal immigrants outside of prison will also increase the likelihood that they will show up for hearings and for deportation, which is now called removal.

Besides Minneapolis and St. Paul, the cities where the new supervision measures will be used are Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami, Denver, Kansas City, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

If successful, the program could be expanded nationwide and lead to thousands of detainees being released, said Victor Cerda, acting director of detention and removal operations for the agency.

One of the biggest problems confronting federal officials, he said, is that tens of thousands of illegal immigrants each year fail to show up for court hearings or to comply with deportation orders.

As a result, the agency spends about $550 million a year nationally on detention expenses such as housing, meals and health care for the detainees, including about 175 in Minnesota.

The government could save millions if the alternative supervision programs prove successful. "The bracelet is an effective way to monitor," Cerda said Friday from Washington. "We do view this as a compassionate alternative."

Almost all of the detainees are held in county jails or state prisons around the country, including dozens at the Rush City state prison in east-central Minnesota.

Housing civil-law violators with hardened criminals has drawn severe criticism from immigration groups around the country, including many in the Twin Cities area.

"In the jails we see people who have committed no crimes being treated as criminals," said Jorge Saavedra, chief legal officer of Centro Legal, a nonprofit law office that works on immigration issues.

Saavedra questioned the government's motives but did grudgingly welcome the possible easing of incarcerations.

"If the option is between a jail cell and remaining at home, obviously remaining at home is a better option," he said.

Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota in Minneapolis, welcomed the program regardless of the motivations, because he said it will help detainees and their families.

"It's a good idea," he said. "It saves the government money and it helps many of the people psychologically."


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