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ICE chief: White House didn't push release of illegals

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The release of illegal immigrants from detention because of budget concerns was undertaken with care to ensure that security was not compromised, the head of the immigration enforcement agency said on Tuesday.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, defended his agency's decision last month to release 2,228 illegal immigrants from detention centers because of budget constraints. They were placed on alternative supervision such as being required to call in regularly or wear an electronic monitor.

Republicans charged that the release was part of scare tactics used by President Obama's administration over mandatory budget cuts, and they pressed Morton on whether his agency had received any pressure.

Morton repeatedly denied that his agency had spoken with officials from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security about the decision to release the illegal immigrants before it happened.

“From this vantage point, it does look like the decision to release detainees was a political determination and not a monetary determination,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican.

Mandatory budget cuts government-wide, known as sequestration, began on March 1, and the government has been operating on a continuing resolution that funds agencies until March 27.

The cuts require a nearly $300 million reduction in the agency's budget over the seven remaining months of the fiscal year, Morton said during the hearing.

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