Immigration officials acknowledged Thursday that they had released 2,228 illegal immigrants from detention in February and early March, not several hundred as they previously had announced, in an effort to reduce spending in advance of mandatory budget cuts, says the Los Angeles Times. John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told a House subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., that four of those discharged were rearrested after agents discovered they had violent criminal records.
Morton said the detainees were let out of jails and detention facilities between Feb. 9 and March 1 for “solely budgetary reasons,” not for political considerations. “We were running hot,” Morton said, citing a recent surge in arrests by the Border Patrol in the Southwest. The agency faced a $71 million budget gap, in part because Congress had provided funds to hold 34,000 people, not the 36,000 in custody, he said. The agency expected additional budget cuts under the sequester that began March 1. On Feb. 26, Morton’s agency sparked widespread criticism in Congress when it announced in a statement that it had released “several hundred” detainees in the previous week because of budget concerns. Although subsequent media reports suggested far more detainees had been released, the agency did not publicly confirm the total or provide any other information until the hearing Thursday.