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ICE director defends release of illegal immigrants from jails

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton defended his agency’s release of more than 2,000 illegal immigrants in what he told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday was a cost-cutting measure. (Cronkite News Service photo by Connor Radnovich)

The director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday defended his agency’s decision to release more than 2,000 illegal immigrants last month, saying it was necessary to keep the agency within its budget.

ICE Director John Morton told a skeptical House Judiciary Committee that all of the 2,228 inmates released still face deportation proceedings and are being tracked through bonds, ankle bracelets or other arrangements.

“There are no mass releases of dangerous criminals underway, or any in the future,” Morton said. “Just efforts to live within our budget.”

But Morton conceded that 629 of those released had criminal convictions and eight were “level-one” offenders – those convicted of major drug offenses or violent crimes and considered to pose the highest threat to the community.

At least one of those eight was in Arizona, he said.

Republicans in the hearing blasted the releases, which they said were motivated by politics and not by the budget. The releases came just days before the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration, which the White House had warned would have disastrous effects.

“It does look like the decision to release the detainees was a political determination and not a monetary determination,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. He said the administration was trying to frighten the American people.

“It appears to me that the release of the detainees was part of a sequester campaign that included the fictional firing of teachers, the closing of the White House for student tours, the displacement of meat inspectors and now we are going to release aggravated felons, some aggravated felons, onto the street,” Gowdy said.

Morton said his agency, which is budgeted for 34,000 jail beds, had been holding at least 1,000 more illegal immigrants than that. At a cost of about $122 a day to keep someone locked up, and with budget threats looming, ICE decided in December that it needed to reduce that number of detainees.

“The releases were a direct result of ICE’s efforts to stay within its detention budget in light of the CR (continuing federal budget resolution) and sequestration,” Morton said.

He said the release of level-one inmates was unintentional. Two were released because of inaccurate computer records and a third was just a mistake, he said, “where the instructions to the field were not carried out.”

Four of the level-one offenders are already back in custody, but four are not, he said.

Morton used the level-one offender from Arizona as an example of why it is difficult to classify people. The 68-year-old man had lived in the country for 44 years and was a level-one inmate because of a drug conviction years ago. An immigration judge determined he was not a danger to the community.

“That just goes to show you these are hard calls,” Morton said. “You have to look at people’s individual circumstances. That is why immigration enforcement is so challenging.”

Morton said inmate releases are not unusual, noting that the agency releases thousands of detainees every month, but still keeps track of them through less costly means.

But Gowdy said there had to be other places in the budget to cut the approximately $600 per day he said it would have cost to keep the four remaining level-one inmates behind bars.

“You could have found $600 to keep these level-one violators from being released, and don’t act like you could not have,” Gowdy shouted.


  1. The “bean-counters” for $$$’s and political gain showed themselves clearly during the hearing which can be seen on C-Span. This is not about people, it’s ALL about power, control and money for jails, detention centers and prisons which enrich the lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law enforcement while growing the “police / military” state Arizona has become — crossing the nation.

    The “ICE-ification” of America is a human tragedy that is a war on America and all it has stood for. Unethical, immoral, cruel and inhumane beyond belief. Truly shameful. Who are the real criminals that belong behind bars?

  2. morton IS such a Cowardly lil’ piss-ant, as IS his ‘boss’ & lump holder & nappi into that same Nasty bag……..NoOne is Fooled by this ‘stunt’…..SIGN The Petition, Just Say NO to Another Failed Amnesty…..SIGN!!!


    It’s Fast, it’s Free, copies to you’re 2 Senators, House Rep., Governor & that sick Excuse for a ‘prez’….SIGN, Stand UP for This Country, SIGN before these ‘Politicians’ aka Crooks Give This Country Away……Leaving TaxPayers to Foot the Bill….SIGN, Just Say Heck NO to Amnesty……duh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. ICE has showed itself to be what we feared all along–just and extension of socialist/marxist leaning leftists–

  4. The ICE-ification of America, the mass incarceration of America is the “war on America”. Wake up folks! Get informed. This IS the publics’ problem!

    “THE HOUSE I LIVE IN”: New Film EXPOSES Economic, Moral Failure of U.S. War on Drugs. 2 of 2 – YouTube

    “THE HOUSE I LIVE IN” by Eugene Jarecki, filmmaker. Sundance award-winning Documentary Movie – YouTube Official Trailer #1 (2012) This self-destructing war on America must be stopped!

  5. The battle for Federal $$$’s for new private prison corporations and the profiteers in the mass incarceration of America. This is the publics’ problem.

    A brutal prison culture » peoplesworld


    “Some writers have compared the U.S. sexual humiliation of prisoners in Iraq with Maricopa County, Ariz., where Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s made male prisoners parade around in pink female underwear. The person selected by Attorney General John Ashcroft to train prison guards in Iraq, Lane McCotter, was pushed out of his position as head of the Utah prison system in 1997 because of scandalously brutal conditions under his watch, which led to the death of a mentally ill prisoner who had been chained up naked for 16 hours. It is simply not believable that Ashcroft and others in the Bush administration did not know about McCotter’s background. Anyone who is up for an important government position these days is very carefully screened by the FBI. The Bush administration must not have cared, or perhaps they saw the brutality in McCotter’s resume as a “plus.”

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