1,764 immigrants held in U.S. federal prisons are being released from custody today as part of a broader push toward reducing inflated sentencing for drug crimes and managing prison overcrowding, but will immediately be sent back into ICE custody for possible deportation.
The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency within the judicial branch charged with overseeing punishment regulations for various crimes, ruled in 2014 to change guidelines for mandatory minimum sentences held for low-level federal drug offenses, and later to retroactively apply this ruling to inmates kept in federal detention for such offenses. Sentences can be reduced up to five years.
The first group of inmates, just over 6,000 individuals, qualify for sentence reductions under this guideline within the next week, and will be released back to halfway homes and families. Nearly 208,000 others remain in federal custody for similar convictions. Nearly a quarter of inmates set for release are undocumented, and will likely be deported immediately after qualifying for sentence reductions.
Of this group, some are undocumented immigrants, but others are legal residents who may now be subject to removal proceedings because of their criminal records. Most of this group will be kept in mandatory detention while their cases are considered, as controlled substance convictions are not entitled to bond hearings.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), which oversees both the Federal Bureau of Prisons and ICE, is managing the transition for inmates across the two agencies. “We’ve been working with them for a while to make sure there will be a smooth transition for those who are not citizens,” a DOJ official told reporters.
Despite this, many immigrants are finding relief in deportation. Without legal status in the U.S. many immigrants cannot access programs within federal prison, and denies them the right to be kept in low-security federal prison facilities. “It’s a much harsher sentence,” Marjorie Meyers, a federal public defender in the Southern District of Texas, told YahooNews.