The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 28, 2013

Budget cuts border security, immigrant detention

— PHOENIX (AP) — Marco Antonio Durazo had been awaiting deportation from an Arizona detention center for six months when an officer came to get him from his cell.

"Obama doesn't have any money," the officer said.

"We found it very funny," Durazo said, but it wasn't a joke.

Soon, he was free along with hundreds of other illegal immigrants who were released by the Obama administration because of budget pressures. Officials have also scaled back border agent hours, drug patrols and staffing at border crossings — all during the peak illegal border-crossing season.

While prompted by the nation's money woes, the changes also come amid the nation's shifting immigration policy after years of mass arrests and deportations and billions spent on border security.

The long-term impact of that change has yet to be seen. The Border Patrol said January and February numbers showed a nearly 10 percent increase in apprehensions along the Mexico border for the first two months of the year, compared with 2012.

There could be several factors for the rise, including immigrants motivated by an improving U.S. economy or those anticipating congressional action that could create a path to citizenship. The cuts come as lawmakers are struggling to work out a comprehensive immigration reform package whose success may ultimately be tied to questions of border security.

On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain led a bipartisan group of senators on a tour of the border, and they said they were close to a deal but continued to tie it to keeping immigration in check. They promised more details next week, but McCain said that there's "no doubt" in his mind that the border is less secure because of the budget cuts.

The release of more than 2,200 immigrants like Durazo drew headlines this month as the government prepared for looming cuts that began in March. In February, the government let go of hundreds of immigrants from detention centers in states including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas. The administration planned to let roughly 3,000 more go in March, according to an internal government budget document reviewed by the AP and later released by the House Judiciary Committee.

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