(WASHINGTON) — After two weeks of denials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have finally publicly acknowledged the release of more than 2,000 undocumented immigrants for budgetary reasons.
On Thursday at a hearing of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee, ICE Director John Morton admitted 2,228 were released for “solely budgetary reasons.”
Morton took full responsibility for the decision, saying it was an ICE decision, not a White House decision.
“And I take full responsibility for the agency, for the management of our beds,” he said. “And, as I have said and the secretary has said, you know, I regret that there is a level of surprise and questions about what we did.”
He testified that the decision was made to release detainees to allow the agency to “stay within its budget.” The other choice, he said, was to cut domestic investigators – money that is used to go after drug traffickers, alien smugglers, child pornographers and money launderers.
Of those released, 70 percent had “no record at all,” while 10 were classified as level 1 offenders – which includes aggravated assault and financial crimes. Another 159 were level 2 offenders, which includes those picked up for theft, larceny and DUIs; and 460 were level 3 offenders, which are misdemeanors and single DUIs.
Morton noted that authorities re-caught four of the level 1 offenders after releasing them, citing a computer error for their initial release.
“In some of those cases there was a question as to whether the records were accurately entered into our system,” Morton said. “And when I had all of them looked at, there were a couple where the computer record didn’t accurately reflect.”
During testimony, Morton said Texas had the most detainees released, although no level 1 releases.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Eric Bradner, Dana Bash and MJ Lee, CNN