Two key senators said Thursday that Homeland Security officials should face discipline for their role earlier this year in releasing 622 criminal immigrants, including 32 with multiple felony convictions, in a move the Obama administration initially blamed on the budget sequester cuts.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the homeland security agency responsible for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants, has said it felt compelled to release thousands of people in order to meet budget goals.
But Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, the chairman and ranking Republican member of the Senate’s investigative subcommittee, said many of the people that got released should never have been put out with the general public.
One of the 32 immigrants released with multiple convictions had a felony robbery conviction and multiple prostitution convictions, while another had convictions for manufacturing fake IDs.
The two senators said Homeland Security officials had to go out and recaptured 24 of the 32 criminals with multiple convictions, but left the other eight out in public, though it did subject them to other monitoring such as ankle bracelets.
“The ICE officials responsible for this must face disciplinary action and must take all actions necessary to ensure that this never happens again,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.
ICE officials said they made the decision to release immigrants on their own, with no input from superiors at the Homeland Security Department or from the White House.
Federal law says the agency is supposed to hold an average of 34,000 illegal immigrants in detention a day, and it is funded at that level.
ICE initially said the budget sequesters forced them to drop below that level, which is why they released the immigrants. But officials later said they’d been running above the 34,000 level already, and would have had to cut down anyway in order to make the average.