MIAMI — Jose Lopez was at the Krome detention center awaiting possible deportation to his native Nicaragua when, on Feb. 26, immigration officials suddenly released him.
Overjoyed, Lopez went home that day to rejoin his family in Miami for the first time since he was first arrested several months ago and deportation proceedings began. Lopez was one of the 2,228 immigrant detainees recently released nationwide by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who cited the federal budget sequester.
Among those were 225 foreign nationals freed by the ICE Miami deportation unit, which includes Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias.
A federal official familiar with the issue said 76 of the 225 had criminal convictions, including two who were considered aggravated felons.
While not in detention any longer, those foreign nationals remain under supervised release.
The detainees were released between Feb. 9 and March 1, federal officials in Miami said. Originally, ICE officials said only a few hundred detained immigrants had been released nationwide. But on March 14, in testimony before a congressional committee in Washington, D.C., ICE chief John Morton revealed that the total was higher than had been acknowledged.
Morton said the freed detainees included not only undocumented immigrants with no criminal records, but also people convicted of theft, financial crimes and drunk driving. "In some cases, multiple DUIs," Morton told a House appropriations subcommittee.
Morton added that at least 10 of the foreign nationals released were deemed to be "Level 1" offenders, the most risky designation. Four were later rearrested.
Lopez, who was rearrested March 14, had been put in deportation proceedings as a result of two criminal convictions, one in 1997 for burglary when he was in high school, and the second for possession of marijuana in 2001, according to his north Miami immigration attorney, Kenneth Panzer.
The Arizona Republic newspaper reported recently that more than one-third of the 342 undocumented immigrants released from detention facilities in Arizona were convicted criminals, and that at least one was a "Level 1" offender.