Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton told House lawmakers Thursday that ICE had released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants from detention centers in February in anticipation of the sequester.
Morton’s testimony at a hearing on immigration enforcement before a House appropriations subcommittee contradicted the administration’s earlier assertion that only “a few hundred” illegal immigrants had been released due to the mandatory budget cuts.
According to a report from the Associated Press, Morton testified that ICE released 2,228 illegal immigrants for “solely budgetary reasons.” Morton said that no political appointees played a role in the decision, and that it was the looming sequester that lead to the release.
“We were trying to live within the budget that Congress had provided us,” Morton said, according to the AP’s report. “This was not a White House call. I take full responsibility.”
Morton said that Texas released the most detainees, but did not offer information about other states.
The AP reported that Morton further testified that those who were released consist of illegals largely facing convictions for financial
crimes. Others were convicted of multiple drunken driving offenses, misdemeanor crimes, traffic offenses and aggravated felonies.
On March 5, the House Judiciary Committee released an internal ICE document outlining ICE’s plans to release 1,000 detainees a week from Feb. 15 to March 31 — reducing their detainee numbers from 30,748 to 26,748, well below the 34,000 mandated by Congress.
The administration pushed back against an earlier Associated Press report that revealed ICE had released 2,000 immigrants and an additional 3,000 would be released this month. According to the AP’s report, the ICE responded that it did not know how many had been released due to budget reasons but would look over its records.