White House: Release of illegal immigrants not our call
USA Today -- Alan Gomez
The White House said Wednesday that it played no part in the decision to release hundreds of undocumented immigrants from detention centers, but a Texas Republican congressman is demanding answers.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the decision was made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement "without any input from the White House."
He said ICE made the decision "as a result of fiscal uncertainty" over automatic spending cuts that are to take effect March 1 if Congress and President Obama do not reach a deal on a federal budget. Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of the deal; Republicans are opposed.
On Wednesday, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul sent a letter to ICE Director John Morton demanding the total number of people released, where they were released from and the specific reason why each of them was deemed releasable.
"This decision reflects the lack of resource prioritization within the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is indicative of the department's weak stance on national security," McCaul wrote in his letter.
The Associated Press reported that the head of enforcement and removal operations for ICE, Gary Mead, announced his retirement shortly after the release of immigrants was publicly announced. The AP cited an e-mail that Mead sent to coworkers on Tuesday saying he is leaving ICE at the end of April.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the report was "inaccurate and misleading" because Mead announced several weeks ago that he planned to retire after 40 years in federal service and six years at ICE.
"As planned, and as shared with ICE staff weeks ago, Mr. Mead will retire at the end of April," Christensen said in a statement.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., characterized the release of immigrants as an attempt to frighten Americans into supporting Obama's budget spending demands.
ICE press secretary Barbara Gonzalez said that worries about possible budget cuts in the process known as sequestration led them to release "several hundred" illegal immigrants facing deportation from detention centers. Their deportation cases will proceed, but instead of more costly incarceration, they are being placed on various levels of supervised release until their cases are resolved.
ICE said Tuesday that "fiscal uncertainty" hovering over the federal government made it necessary to release the detainees "to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget," Gonzalez said.
She said ICE had received McCaul's letter and "will respond to him accordingly."
About $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts to defense and domestic programs are scheduled to take effect Friday. The cuts are part of a 10-year, $1.2 trillion automatic decrease in federal spending Congress approved and Obama agreed to during talks to raise the federal debt ceiling in 2011.