New documents show that some of the 2,200 illegal immigrants released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody last year were violent criminals, despite the Obama administration’s repeated insistence that those released had committed only “low-level” crimes.
USA Today obtained ICE records of the mass release — which began in Feb. 2013 — through a Freedom of Information Act request.
A spokeswoman for ICE admitted to the release of some violent criminals on Wednesday but blamed unnamed external factors.
“Discretionary releases made by ICE were of low-level offenders,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told USA Today. “However, the releases involving individuals with more significant criminal histories were, by and large, dictated by special circumstances outside of the agency’s control.”
The 629 released detainees with criminal records included “one person in Texas charged with aggravated kidnapping and sexually assaulting a child, as well as others charged with armed assaults or assaulting police officers,” the documents show.
“Another immigrant released from Miami had been charged with conspiracy to commit homicide. Two detainees from Boston had been charged with aggravated assault using a weapon. One in Denver had a sexual assault charge.”
Those findings are at odds with assurances made by then-ICE director John Morton and others in the Obama administration, including then-White House press secretary Jay Carney, that no violent criminals were released in the move.
Morton told a House appropriations subcommittee none of the released detainees had committed violent crimes.
“No one on that list has been charged or convicted with murder, rape or sexual abuse of a minor, were they?” Virginia U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes asked Morton.
“They were not,” Morton said.
Morton said that ten released detainees had been classified as the most serious criminals, Level 1. But he said that the majority of those were charged with financial crimes. There were 159 Level 2 offenders and 460 Level 3 offenders, Morton said.
He also stated that the release of the detainees had not been conducted “willy-nilly.”
The White House also rebuffed concerns expressed by Republicans shortly after the release.
“This was a decision made by career officials at ICE, without any input from the White House, as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution, as well as possible sequester,” Jay Carney told reporters at a White House briefing shortly after the release was made public.
“As ICE made clear yesterday, the agency released these low-risk, non-criminal detainees under a less expensive form of monitoring to ensure detention levels stayed within ICE’s overall budget.”
Republicans pushed back against the administration blaming budget cuts for the mass release.
“It does look like the decision to release the detainees was a political determination and not a monetary determination,” South Carolina U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy told Morton in a House Judiciary committee meeting in late Feb. 2013.
“It appears to me that the release of the detainees was part of a sequester campaign that included the fictional firing of teachers, the closing of the White House for student tours, the displacement of meat inspectors and now we are going to release aggravated felons—some aggravated felons onto the street.”