9OYS Immigration Watch

Mass release of illegal immigrants sparks celebration & outrage locally

CREATED Feb 26, 2013 - UPDATED: Feb 27, 2013

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Reporter: Maggie Vespa

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Days ahead of Washington's dreaded 'sequestration' deadline, one federal agency is cutting back ahead of schedule.

Tuesday the US Department of Homeland Security announced it has been and will be releasing thousands of undocumented immigrants from detention centers across the country, with the promise they will appear in immigration court to work out their case.

It's a move few saw coming. 59 year-old Ciria Hayes knew on Sunday, what millions more found out days later.

"Suddenly he's out! Oh, I couldn't believe it."

That her brother Marco Antonio Durazo, held for four months at Arizona's Eloy detention center was one of thousands to suddenly walk free.

"You know, he's not a criminal!  He's not a criminal!  How can you keep him there for so long?"

But not everyone is so thrilled with the mass release.

"This underminds the rule of law and the whole idea in America that there's consequences for breaking the law," said Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

9OYS spoke to Sheriff Babeu via phone. He condemned the move, calling it a threat to public safety.

"The issue here that I have is hundreds of criminal illegals being released into the community, many of which weren't even arrested in that local community or in my county," he said.

Sheriff Babeu is backed by Senator Jeff Flake and Governor Jan Brewer. Her office released this statement which reads, "This represents a return to exactly the kind of catch-and-release procedures that have long made a mockery of our country's immigration system."

She also argues the move quote "threatens public safety". Others disagree.

"We believe that these people should not have been detained to begin with," said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona.

9OYS also caught up with her via phone.

"They're currently being detained in jail like conditions for civil violations of immigration laws, and so the president announced two years ago, over two years ago, that they were going to overhaul the system to make it less punitive," said Soler.

That's a point that Ciria Hayes, who is a citizen herself, says worked in favor of her brother. A resident of Tucson for twenty years, she says he applied for citizenship. He was only detained when police responded to dispute between his wife and a neighbor.

"We are good people that just come here to make better for everybody, for us, and just learn a better life and life a good life," she said.

DHS has said those chosen for release are non-violent. Meanwhile, the catalyst of all this is obviously money. The National Immigration Forum estimates it costs between $122 and $164 per day to hold a detainee. Alternative forms of detention cost between $14 and 30 cents.