In this undated photo, immigrants walk to hearings at the Stewart Detention Center in Lupmkin, Ga. A week before mandatory budget cuts go into effect across the government, the Department of Homeland Security has started releasing illegal immigrants being held in immigration jails across the country, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (AP)
The Obama administration had no advance knowledge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's decision to release several hundred illegal immigrants from jail due to looming federal budget cuts, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
"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 sequestration," Carney told reporters Wednesday.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, was also unaware of the decision until it was announced, a department official told Politico.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said Tuesday the agency had reviewed "several hundred cases" of immigrants being held across the country and put them on "supervised release" in order to cut costs before mandatory cuts go into effect Friday.
“In order to make the best use of our limited detention resources in the current fiscal climate and to manage our detention population under current congressionally mandated levels, ICE has directed field offices to review the detained population to ensure it is in line with available funding,” Christensen said in a statement. “As a result of this review, a number of detained aliens have been released around the country and placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blasted the decision Tuesday, telling CBS News it was difficult for him to believe there were no other cuts the agency could have made.
"I frankly think this is outrageous…I can’t believe that they can’t find the kind of savings they need out of that department short of letting criminals go free," Boehner said.
Carney told reporters those released were "low-risk, non-criminal detainees" and were being kept under a "less-expensive form of monitoring to ensure detention levels stayed within ICE's overall budget."
"All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings," Carney said. "Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety. This step affected a few hundred detainees, as you know, out of the over 30,000 currently in ICE detention."