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Detainees released: Could that hurt immigration reform? (+video)

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"The agency released these low-risk, noncriminal detainees under a less expensive form of monitoring to ensure detention levels stayed within ICE's overall budget," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday, insisting that the White House was not involved in the decision.

On Monday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, a member of the Obama Cabinet, offered: "I'm supposed to have 34,000 [beds for detainees]. How do I pay for those? We want to maintain [some] 22,000 ... Border Patrol agents. I've got to be able to pay their salaries."

Currently, 30,000 immigration scofflaws are housed in 250 detention facilities nationwide.

Pro-immigrant activists hailed ICE’s move, calling it a common-sense approach that will save the government a lot of money. They also cited research suggesting that those enrolled in alternative-to-detention programs, which include GPS anklets, come to their final immigration hearings 96 percent of the time.

More broadly, however, 59 percent of all alleged immigration lawbreakers who are not detained by ICE fail to show up for their immigration court dates, critics say. Moreover, some 600,000 illegal immigrants have never answered deportation letters sent to them by ICE, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a Washington think tank that advocates stronger borders and tougher immigration enforcement.

"Illegal immigrants are by definition flight risks," says Steven Camarota, research director at the center.

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