The White House said Wednesday that it had nothing to do with the decision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release immigrants awaiting deportation back into the country in order to save money ahead of the looming budget “sequesters.”
“This was a decision made by career officials at ICE without any input from the White House as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution as well as possible sequestration,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
He didn’t say whether the White House agreed with the decision, but seemed to defend it, saying that all of the immigrants released remain subject to deportation and are still being supervised either electronically or by being required to check in regularly.
Mr. Carney said it costs less money to release the immigrants and monitor them than it does to hold them in detention centers, and he said that will help ICE stay within a new lower budget that will result from the automatic across-the-board spending cuts slated to begin Friday morning.
The White House didn’t say why the administration began releasing immigrants before the budget cuts.
On Tuesday, ICE, an agency within the Homeland Security Department, confirmed it had conducted a review of the immigrants it was holding in its detention centers, and decided there were several hundred who were low-priority risks and could be released.
In 2012, ICE had about 34,000 detained immigrants on an average day, though House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul said that number had dropped to 30,773 immigrants as of last week.
He said that was “a clear violation” of existing law.
The decision to release immigrants has drawn a stern response from both sides of the immigration debate.
Immigrant-rights advocates said the fact that there were low-priority immigrants being detained shows that Mr. Obama’s policies are too harsh, while congressional Republicans said releasing the immigrants could put dangerous criminals out on the streets.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia hinted Wednesday morning that the number of immigrants released could be in the thousands and that most had “committed some kind of a criminal act.”
Mr. McCaul sent a letter to ICE asking for specific information on every person who was released, including what sort of monitoring they are subject to and what caused them to be detained in the first place.
The senior official in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants announced his retirement Wednesday, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press. The government said he had told his bosses weeks ago that he planned to retire.