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Sequester Budget Cuts Lead To Controversial Release Of Jailed Illegal Immigrants

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- We're now two days away from next fiscal cliff and White House is conceding that drastic budget cuts known as "sequester" will take effect Friday.

And in a controversial move, hundreds of jailed illegal immigrants are being released to save money, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reported Wednesday.

The Bergen County Jail released 12 illegal aliens and other lockups in our area are also releasing prisoners -- unusual money saving cuts as the country prepares to go over the latest fiscal cliff.

As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano lamented the budget cuts sweeping the country, but she said, "There's only so much I can do."

"We're doing our best to minimize the impacts of sequester, but there's only so much I can do. I'm supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration. How do I pay for those?" Napolitano said.

The feds are keeping a tight lid on the details of the inmate release, saying only that there are "hundreds" nationwide, and that they are "non-criminals and other low risk offenders," a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

Immigration groups said there have been inmates freed from several local prisons. Deportation cases against the immigrants will continue and all released inmates will be supervised, officials said.

But Long Island U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said it's a dangerous political gambit.

"To be releasing any type of prisoners, especially illegal immigrants, into society, it raises national security issues," Rep. King said. "They could be involved in drug peddling. They could have terrorist connections. They could have criminal gang connections."

The federal government has not said much about the nationwide inmate release, saying only that hundreds will go free.

But the feds insist the inmates are "non-criminals" and "low-risk offenders."

Officials said deportation cases against inmates will continue, and all released inmates will be supervised.

Meanwhile, the $85 billion in budget cuts could also slow down the Second Avenue subway project, since it relies in part on federal funding from a program called New Starts.

Business owners along the route were not happy to hear that news.

"We've all been waiting long enough at this point," said Jay Tally of Millesima Wine Shop, at 1355 Second Ave. on the Upper East Side.

Millesima has survived amid the mess, but many shops just across the street have had to close.

"They shouldn't cut here," said Anne Steinhandler of the Upper East Side. "I know it's difficult because they have to cut across the board. But people are inconvenienced. Look at this! I mean, this is a disaster!"

The White House is also conceding that the $85 billion in cuts affecting everything from airline flights to meat inspections to classrooms will go into effect Friday.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan became the latest Obama administration official to outline the doom-and-gloom cuts, citing the "cutting people, cutting after-school programs, cutting school days out of the school year."

"The one thing the president is not doing is sitting down and negotiating and attempting to work out an agreement and he's not trying to minimize the impact," Rep. King said.

The first new talks with congressional leaders will be Friday at the White House -- after the sequester cuts kick in.

In addition, the DHS official who heads the unit involved in the release of the illegal aliens is leaving the agency. Officials said it is a long-planned retirement and unrelated to the inmate controversy.

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