It is as subtle as the meat cleaver or blunt axe the president has been complaining about in his negotiations with Republicans over sequestration, those blind, mandatory budget cuts that begin today. In what seems a bold, blatantly political move, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released hundreds of illegal immigrants from detention. ICE claims it did that because it fears not having enough money to keep them detained since its budget has now been reduced by sequestration.
What will really tick me off is if the two sides use this petty incident to delay meaningful action on comprehensive immigration reform.
- Geraldo Rivera
I can’t prove the following scenario actually happened. In fact, as you’ll see, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, denies any presidential involvement; but I can just picture this imagined conversation happening in the Oval Office.
“Mr. President, those damn Republicans are not going to blink. They’re insisting on these cuts,” complains Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, the president’s go-to man on money issues.
“Hmm, how can we make them feel the pain of their intransigence?” asks the 44th POTUS as he glides/paces the famous room.
“I got an idea,” replies the cunning, thoughtful Sperling. “Let’s release some of the 30,773 illegal immigrants we’re detaining. That will make the annoying Tea Party people crazy. Plus, you can make an economic argument. Each immigrant is costing ICE from $122 to $164 a day to hold. Let enough of them go and you’ve got the cuts covered.”
“I like it Gene. Release a few hundred from Arizona first. The nice ones; the Juan and Maria fruit-picking church-goers. We’ll show that Governor Jan Brewer not to wag her finger at me,” replies the boss, “not to mention that obnoxious Sheriff Joe. By the way, did you ever read Bob Woodward the Riot Act for reporting that these cuts were my idea?”
“I did, Mr. President, but it didn’t turn out too well. He went public with my saying he would regret his reporting.”
If something like that scene happened, it would be a fitting conclusion to what could be called President Obama’s hold-my-breath budget tantrum. He refused until the die was about to be cast to moderate his intransigent pre-condition that this budget cut deal must also include a tax increase deal, which could easily wait a few months without any injury except to the president’s pride. So Bob Woodward claims convincingly that presidential adviser Sperling threatened that he would ‘regret’ reporting that sequestration was the president’s bad idea. As the White House and reporter Woodward negotiate what really happened between them, the ham-handed tactic of releasing illegal immigrants on unsuspecting communities without notice corroborates the view that the sequestration impasse made the president fighting mad.
Don’t get me wrong. I actually smiled when I heard that the first 300 immigrants released by ICE were in Arizona, hotbed of the anti-illegal immigration movement, home of “papers please” and the scolding angry lady governor. No other legal provocation could provoke such indignant howls.
“These are aliens with felony convictions, who have been released into my county,” Paul Babeau, energetic sheriff of Pinal County told Wonkblog, CNN and several other media outlets. Reacting to the surprise release of about 50 illegal immigrants from the Pinal County jail, which he oversees, he called it a “mass budget pardon,” adding it was done, “without warning and under a cloak of secrecy. It’s outrageous and would put criminals on the streets.”
Equally activist, but more rhetorically flamboyant Sheriff Joe Arpaio offered to take in the released detainees free of charge, eager -he said- to have them as residents in his notoriously uncomfortable tent city where he promised to give one and all his trademark inmate pink underwear. “What are they trying to do, stimulate or pressure Congress? It’s just going to make them agitated. It’s a stupid game when you really look at it that’s going to backfire,” he told Politico.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jay Carney scrambled to contain the spreading notion that the super cool Obama White House had hotly backhanded its opponents, saying, "these low-risk, non-criminal detainees are under a less expensive form of monitoring to ensure detention levels stayed within ICE’s overall budget. All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety. This step affected a few hundred detainees, as you know, out of the over 30,000 currently in ICE detention.”
Whatever. What will really tick me off is if the two sides use this petty incident to delay meaningful action on comprehensive immigration reform. Spite runs deep in the nation’s capital; especially when they’re forced to wield cleavers or axes.
Geraldo Rivera currently serves as a roaming correspondent-at-large for Fox News Channel. He joined the network in 2001 as a war correspondent.