An Arizona sheriff is accusing immigration officials of showing “blatant” disregard to the safety of his county’s residents in a recent incident involving the release of an ill undocumented immigrant.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials were planning to let go of a man carrying drug-resistant tuberculosis ― and only halted the release after mounting media pressure.
“This is an ICE detainee ̶ so someone who is not from our country ̶ who ICE was planning just to release into our county, who had a drug-resistant immune system to TB,” Babeu told Fox News Latino.
“That was alarming to us because this is a very contagious, dangerous disease,” he added.
Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar spoke out against ICE’s plan to release the man, penning a letter demanding the agency reconsider releasing the man into Pinal County due to the potential public health risk. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick also signed.
ICE officials eventually decided to pump the brakes on the release of the unidentified man.
“At this time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no plans to release this person from custody. Due to multiple previous repatriations, including a formal removal in 2013, the individual is an ICE enforcement priority,” said ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe in a statement.
She said the detainee remains at Florence Detention Center pending a decision by an immigration judge regarding any request for a bond and whether the detainee will remain in the U.S. or be removed.
But Babeu insists the agency was determined to release the man, and is only now saving face.
“They were proceeding, they were going to release this individual. And unless there was pressure applied to ICE by the public through the media, they were going to do this,” said Babeu.
The sheriff says this “close call” is just the latest of a string of incidents in which ICE officials have shown a “blatant disregard” for the safety of his nearly 420,000 residents ̶ and called out the agency on the release of hundreds of immigrants with criminal backgrounds into his county.
Back in March, an ICE report revealed 30,000 undocumented immigrants with criminal records were released nationwide. Babeu says about 500 went into his county ̶ and to date he’s been unable to get their names from immigration officials.
“We didn’t have a lot of faith in the [tuberculosis] process, given their track record here in the county of releasing a series of violent offenders here ̶ never mind the public health concern,” said Babeu.
In an appearance in front of the House Judiciary Committee in early April, ICE Director Sarah Saldaña said the release of the individuals was really in the hands of the courts. She said ICE has made serious improvements in the capture and deportation of immigrants with criminal records.
Aalia Shaheed is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Get more information on the program here and follow them on Twitter: @FNCJrReporters