Mass release of US prisoners spells deportation for hundreds

Justice Department Will Begin Release of 6,000 Non-Violent Inmates from Federal Prison


Almost a third of 6,000 federal prisoners scheduled to be freed between Friday and Tuesday, part of a push to reduce America's soaring incarceration rate, will immediately be turned over to U.S. immigration authorities for deportation proceedings.

EXPLORE MORE:Listen to the audio version of the top stories you need to know right now

While this weekend will be a happy occasion for the thousands of inmates who are U.S. citizens and will reunite with their families, many of the roughly 1,780 foreign inmates to be put on the deportation track will leave family members behind in the United States.

Despite Obama administration assurances that the transfer of ex-convicts into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a routine occurrence, immigrant advocates worry they may not receive due process as they leave.

Photos from inside U.S. prisons:

16 PHOTOS
Inside prisons across America
See Gallery
Mass release of US prisoners spells deportation for hundreds
A prison cell block is seen following a tour by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
An inmate with mental health conditions is handcuffed to a table while jailed in the Medium Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An inmate with mental health conditions eats is a cell while jailed in the High Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Handcuffs sit on a rail in the High Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An inmate works in the kitchen at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. California is under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A prison cell is seen through the door window following a tour of the cell block by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Inmates with mental health conditions are escorted to the the Correctional Treatment Center Hospital at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A bird flies over barbed wire on top of fences at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. California is under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Inmate Kristina Hazelett, 35, plays with a dog in a cell at the MCSO Animal Safe Haven (MASH) Unit in a former jail that has become a shelter for abused and neglected animals seized in Maricopa County Sheriff's Office investigations, in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "DOGS NICHOLSON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Members of the media in protective vests and face shields take photographs of inmates at the recreation yard inside the Adjustment Center during a media tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California December 29, 2015. America's most populous state, which has not carried out an execution in a decade, begins 2016 at a pivotal juncture, as legal developments hasten the march toward resuming executions, while opponents seek to end the death penalty at the ballot box. To match Feature CALIFORNIA-DEATH-PENALTY/ Picture taken December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Members of the media walk down the corridor inside the Adjustment Center during a media tour of California's Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, California December 29, 2015. America's most populous state, which has not carried out an execution in a decade, begins 2016 at a pivotal juncture, as legal developments hasten the march toward resuming executions, while opponents seek to end the death penalty at the ballot box. To match Feature CALIFORNIA-DEATH-PENALTY/ Picture taken December 29, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A message is seen on the wall at a cafeteria inside the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION)
Offenders are reflected in a mirror while studying at a library inside the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary located in the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION)
A security official walks past a sign seen inside a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary library located in the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION)
An offender grabs lunch from a cafeteria inside the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas August 12, 2014. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a private college based in Fort Worth, Texas, began its bachelor of science in biblical studies program at Darrington, south of Houston, about three years ago. To be accepted, an offender has to be at least 10 years from the possibility of parole, have a good behavior record and the appropriate academic credentials to enroll in a college course. The program, which is largely paid for by charitable contributions from the Heart of Texas Foundation, has more than 150 prisoners enrolled and plans to send its graduates as field ministers to other units who want the bible college alumni for peer counseling and spiritual guidance. The first degrees are expected to be conferred next year. Picture taken August 12, 2014. To match Feature USA-TEXAS/PRISON REUTERS/Adrees Latif (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION FOOD SOCIETY RELIGION)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Most of the foreign inmates are Mexicans, according ICE.

Final deportation orders are in effect for 763 of the foreign inmates, who could be deported within days. The rest will be transferred to immigrant detention centers to await orders.

The latest mass release, one of the largest in U.S. history, is a result of retroactive reductions to mandatory minimum sentence guidelines for certain non-violent drug offenses.

After those took effect last November, 23,000 prisoners applied for reduced sentences. Judges granted three quarters of the requests, of which this weekend's releases are a portion, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Judges granted the most petitions from inmates who were prosecuted in Texas' western judicial district, 1,048 in all.

About a quarter of western Texas inmates cleared for release are foreign nationals, primarily from Mexico, according to Edgar Holguin, a local public defender who has worked for many who are being turned over to ICE custody.

One of Holguin's clients is a 48-year-old Mexican man who has been living in the United States since he was a child. For him, "the Mexico he is going back to is completely different than the one he remembers," Holguin said.

Ricardo Hinojosa, a judge in Texas and ex-vice chair of the sentencing commission, said last year at a public hearing that many of the deportees "will be tempted to come back, and maybe quicker," because many have families in the United States.

As a result, Hinojosa said at the hearing, "We will see them as illegal reentry cases, to some extent, sooner than one would normally see them."

DUE PROCESS CONCERNS

ICE said its handling of the inmates will be no different than the thousands of deportations it oversees weekly.

Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the federal government has deported more immigrants than under any previous administration, more than 2 million in total.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday wrote to ICE chief Sarah Saldaña, urging the agency to ensure that each inmate entering ICE custody in the current release wave gets due process, including the opportunity to consult an immigration attorney and contest their removal in court.

The "stark contrast" between the fates of inmates who are U.S. citizens and immigrant inmates suggests "a schism between DOJ and ICE policies," said the letter.

In a statement, ICE said it will ensure all immigrants subject to deportation "receive the full process they are due while in removal proceedings and ICE custody," including access to phones to contact attorneys, consulates and legal aid groups.

SEE MORE:Plane catches fire on runway; FAA says it had no past issues

FAMILY REUNION

That "stark contrast" in the fates of inmates can be seen in Ronald Rogers.

Rogers, 56, was 13 years from finishing a 40-year sentence for dealing PCP when a judge last year granted him early release under the new guidelines. In May, Rogers entered a halfway facility in San Diego. On Friday, he'll be a free man.

"I'm thrilled that for the first Thanksgiving in 28 years we'll be able to sit at the table together," said his sister, Nicole Jackson-Gray.

Most U.S. citizens being released have already moved to halfway houses or home confinement, said the Justice Department, which said those getting early release are a small fraction of the 70,000 federal inmates released annually.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Julia Edwards; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler)

More from AOL.com:
1 dead, 1 hurt in collapse at midtown building
US to deploy special operations forces in Syria: Official
This map shows how large Europe's refugee crisis really is

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.