U.S. immigration officials released more than 600 undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions while the government was bracing for across-the-board spending cuts last year, says a Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s report quoted by the Washington Post. The watchdog determined that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's chief financial office decided to release thousands of detained immigrants in February 2013, hoping to cover part of an expected shortfall with a “sharp and immediate reduction in detention bed space.”
The inspector general said ICE knowingly released immigrants with criminal convictions, but continued to detain those it considered to be dangerous. Federal law requires the agency to detain undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions. ICE leadership did not inform the Department of Homeland Security or the White House about its expected budget issues and did not notify the secretary of Homeland Security about plans for releasing immigrants as a remedy, said the report. Republican Sens. John McCain (Az.) and Tom Coburn (Ok.) blasted the agency for its actions, echoing recent GOP skepticism over President Obama's willingness to enforce the nation's immigration laws.