The Obama administration said Thursday it had rearrested and brought back four of the most dangerous immigrants it released from detention last month in the run-up to the budget sequestration.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton testified to Congress that his agency released 10 “level one” offenders, and has gone out and apprehended four of them. He said the other six are nonviolent.
Mr. Morton also acknowledged that overall, 2,228 immigrants were released — far more than the several hundred the agency had initially acknowledged. Of those, 629 had criminal records, though Mr. Morton said they were low-level offenders.
The releases have drawn a stern rebuke from Republicans, who said it showed mismanaged priorities. They also said ICE’s concession that it released far more immigrants than it first acknowledged dents the agency’s credibility.
“Today’s ICE testimony directly contradicts repeated assurances and explanations peddled by the Obama administration in the days after the mass release of illegal aliens became public knowledge,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “The American people were initially told there were hundreds, not thousands, of individuals released. We were assured they were low-level detainees of little public risk. As we now know, neither of these claims was accurate.”
Dozens of members of Congress have written Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano and demanded she give more details on the decision-making.
But Mr. Morton said he made the choice on his own without any input from the White House or Ms. Napolitano. Still, he was unable to give many of the exact figures members have demanded to know.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and one of those who wrote demanding answers, said Mr. Morton didn’t clear up very much.
“Why was the secretary of Homeland Security not aware of the release of convicted criminals by her own agency? Why did she tell us it was only hundreds who were released when we now learn it was thousands?” he said. “This is evidence of serious mismanagement at DHS under Secretary Napolitano.”
Mr. Morton said his choice was between maintaining 34,000 immigrants in detention or furloughing ICE agents, which he said would curb the agency’s other areas, such as investigations of drug or child pornography cases and money-laundering.
“I don’t think it would be good policy to ask us to maintain 34,000 at the expense of those kinds of investigations,” Mr. Morton said.
All of the immigrants released are still subject to deportation proceedings, and all of them are supposed to be under some sort of supervision, though not all are being electronically monitored.
Mr. Morton was unable to provide exact numbers on that breakdown to the House’s Homeland Security spending subcommittee.
The agency said the decision to release immigrants from custody was partly because of sequestration, but also because it had been detaining more people in the first half of the fiscal year, and had to slow down its pace to fit within its budget.
ICE is funded to detain an average of 34,000 immigrants at any one time but had been detaining up to 36,000 in the early months of the fiscal year, which Mr. Morton said meant they were always going to have to cut the number of people they were holding.