A detainee found guilty of felony second-degree robbery and countless convictions for prostitution and solicitation for lewd conduct was among more than 300 people Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Phoenix released in February as part of a nationwide operation to save money.
Anticipating budget cuts due in part to sequestration, ICE released from custody 2,226 detainees - 342 in Arizona - in February, a move that took many by surprise.
More than 600 detainees with criminal records, including 32 with multiple felony convictions, were released nationwide, according to new information provided by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan.
The Phoenix office also released a detainee who had prior convictions for carrying a loaded firearm, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, felony possession of drugs, second-degree burglary, vandalism and trespassing, and another one convicted of an extreme case of DUI and harassment, the news releases from the senators said.
The Department of Homeland Security re-apprehended 24 of the 32 with multiple felony convictions who had been freed and used alternatives to detention such as ankle bracelets for the remaining eight. It's not known how many of the 32 felons were released from detention facilities in Arizona.
ICE officials have said more than 60 percent of those released from immigration detention centers in Arizona were classified as noncriminal.
"Every day, career ICE law enforcement officials must make decisions as to how to best manage the resources provided to them by Congress," ICE officials said in a written statement in response to the senators' news release.
"As fiscal uncertainty remained over the continuing resolution, and with the strong possibility of sequestration, ICE officials identified and released detained individuals who posed no significant threat to public safety, were not subject to mandatory detention and who were appropriate candidates for supervised release," it reads.
The decisions were made on a case-by-case basis by officials in the field, "in order to ensure that ICE maintained sufficient resources to detain serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety through the end of the continuing resolution," officials said.
Information has been slow to be made public, but after three months and under the threat of possible subpoena, more details were released this week. The senators recommend disciplinary action be considered for the ICE officials responsible for releasing detainees with multiple felony convictions.
"ICE's reprehensible actions put Arizona at risk by setting free into our communities hundreds of detainees who were guilty of criminal offenses," McCain said in the release. "The ICE officials responsible for this must face disciplinary action and must take all actions necessary to ensure that this never happens again."
Initially, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano insisted that only a "few hundred" were placed in other methods of supervision, challenging a report by The Associated Press that the agency had released more than 2,000 immigrants in February and planned to release more than 3,000 others this month.
ICE was criticized after news reports broke that it was releasing large numbers of people from detention, and it eventually confirmed the number.
With sequestration now in effect, ICE's detention bed funding has been reduced by $132 million below fiscal year 2012 funding, according to ICE. It's part of a more than $400 million reduction to ICE's overall budget through the end of fiscal year 2013 - 7 percent less than last year.
All of the individuals released remain in immigration proceedings.
On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at azstarnet.com/border
Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo