The head of the U.S. agency that released more than 2,000 detained immigrants facing deportation said the decision was made for budgetary reasons, as Republicans questioned whether it placed people in danger and was precipitated by politics.
The budget for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and with it the agency’s detainment capacity, has been stressed by across-the-board budget cuts that started taking effect March 1 and uncertainty over the annual budget, John Morton, the agency’s director, told lawmakers today.
“There are no mass releases of dangerous criminals under way, or any planned in the future,” Morton said in remarks in front of the House Judiciary Committee today. “Just an effort to stay within our budget.”
House and Senate Republicans have voiced concern that the release of the 2,228 illegal immigrants being held in detention was politically motivated and placed more than 600 individuals with a criminal record back onto the streets.
“Irresponsible decisions to release detained illegal immigrants unreasonably and unnecessarily put the public at risk,” Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary panel, said today. “The question remains: Are these individuals being released based on legitimate budgetary concerns or because sequestration gave the Obama administration a political reason to release deportable aliens?”
Morton said the decision to release the illegal immigrants was made by career employees, not political appointees and that all of the released individuals remain under watch.
“Our intent is still to remove them from the United States,” Morton said.
Known as sequestration, the U.S. government faces $85 billion in federal spending cuts for the rest of this fiscal year and $1.2 trillion during the next nine years. Agencies have also been operating under temporary budgets after lawmakers were unable to enact spending bills for the entire fiscal year.
Lawmakers in both chambers are currently working toward passing a budget for the rest of this fiscal year.
To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at email@example.com