White House Says It Was Not Involved in Detainee Release

Feb 27, 2013 Issues: Border Security

New York Times -- By Kirk Semple

President Obama’s spokesman said Wednesday that the White House was not involved in the plan to release hundreds of immigrants from detention centers around the country over the past several days.

The decision, he said, was made by "career officials” at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, “without any input from the White House.”

Immigration officials have tied the mass releases, which began last week and came to light this week, to the looming budget cuts known as sequestration. The move has been welcomed by immigrants’ advocates but criticized by many Republican lawmakers who say it jeopardizes public safety.

The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, sought to rebut that assertion, describing the released detainees as “low-risk, noncriminal.” Immigration officials, however, have not claimed that the wave of released detainees excluded convicted criminals. Rather, they have insisted that the released detainees fell outside the administration’s enforcement priorities and included non-criminals and immigrants who had not been accused or convicted of serious crimes.

The detainees were freed on supervised release while their deportation cases continued in court, officials said.

The reaction to the releases apparently prompted a review on Tuesday of the detainees’ cases. According to officials, the review determined that at least one detainee should not have been released, and agents were deployed to recapture him.  

The detainee, whose name was not released, had criminal convictions for bail jumping and a drug-related charge — “nonviolent offenses,” Gillian M. Christensen, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said Wednesday.

The detainee had been “inadvertently released” from the Hudson County jail in New Jersey on Tuesday but was found Wednesday morning and arrested again by the agents, Ms. Christensen said.

Immigration officials said they had no more information about any other detainees who had been released in error.

Also on Wednesday, administration officials scrambled to explain an announcement this week that Gary Mead, the chief of detention and deportation operations at ICE, was retiring. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Mead told his staff in an e-mail on Tuesday that he was leaving.

Agency officials clarified that the departure was not related to the detainee releases and that Mr. Mead, a 40-year federal employee, had told his superiors several weeks ago that he planned to retire. His departure is scheduled for the end of April, Ms. Christensen said.

Republican lawmakers continued on Wednesday to condemn the releases. Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House’s homeland security committee, sent a letter to John Morton, the director of ICE, demanding details of the releases, including the total number of immigrants, the location of the releases and the reason they were detained.

The decision to release the detainees, he wrote, “is indicative of the department’s weak stance on national security.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/us/politics/white-house-says-it-was-not-involved-in-detainee-release.html?_r=0