After news leaked through several sources, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials confirmed this week they have been releasing illegal aliens in federal custody in order to satisfy cuts under the impending sequester.

“Over the last week, ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention,” the agency said in a statement. (Washington Times, Feb. 26, 2013)

Under the sequester, which is slated to take effect March 1, ICE must cut 5.3 percent of its budget. However, reports indicate ICE field offices were told last week to cut their detention capacity five times that amount (or 26 percent) from 34,000 detainees to 25,000. (See CIS Website; see also Washington Free Beacon, Feb. 27, 2013)

But facing outrage from Congress and the American people, ICE quickly attempted to minimize its actions telling reporters that those released were “noncriminals and other low-risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories.” (New York Times, Feb. 26, 2013) Nonetheless, news outlets are already reporting that illegal aliens with violent criminal records have been released. For instance, according to the New York Times, Anthony Orlando Williams, a 52-year-old illegal alien from Jamaica was released from detention despite a 2005 conviction for assault, battery, and child abuse arising from a domestic dispute. (Id.)

Members of Congress blasted the Administration for releasing dangerous illegal aliens back onto the streets.  They are also suggesting that the sequester is merely a pretext for the release of these illegal aliens, especially as ICE released the illegal aliens before sequester cuts went into effect.  Calling the move “outrageous,” Speaker of House John Boehner (R-OH) said, “[it] is very hard for me to believe, that they can’t find cuts elsewhere in their agency…I’m looking for more facts, but 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,” he concluded.  (CBS News, Feb. 26, 2013)

Similarly, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee called the cuts irrational. “There is no logical or rational reason why the 5.3 percent cut to ICE’s operating budget would have to result in forcing law officers to immediately release already-apprehended illegal aliens and fugitives in federal detention. The last thing you would do to meet a budget cut of this size would be to voluntarily undertake actions that undermine the rule of law and endanger the public safety,” he asserted. (The Daily Caller, Feb. 26, 2013)

Several Members of Congress also wrote letters to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, decrying her Department’s reckless behavior. “We are concerned about reports that the Department is already taking action to implement sequestration by releasing criminal aliens from detention facilities and seriously putting the safety of the public at risk. Some reports suggest that as many as 10,000 detainees across the country will be released in the near future in order for ICE to reduce its average daily detention population from 34,000 – a Congressionally mandated requirement- to 25,000,” wrote Sen. Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)  in a letter Wednesday.  (Read the letter here)

In addition, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) charged that the cuts to detention funding was nothing more than a political move to further the Administration’s backdoor amnesty agenda. “[U]sing the sequester as an excuse to initiate this unprecedented mass release of illegal immigrants is a patently political and deliberate move that undermines law enforcement and places our nation’s security at risk,” she wrote in her letter to Secretary Napolitano. (buzzfeed.com, Feb. 27, 2013)

Nonetheless, the White House denies any part in ICE’s decision to release the illegal aliens. “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,” spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. (Washington Times, Feb. 27, 2013)

Stay tuned to FAIR as details continue to unfold…