Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday addressed Republican criticism of the release of hundreds of illegal immigrants from detention centers, saying she wishes it had been spread over time rather than all at once.
Napolitano told ABC News that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials decided to release immigrants deemed to be a low public-safety risk ahead of the across-the-board spending cuts set to begin on Friday.
“Detainee populations and how that is managed back and forth is really handled by career officials in the field,” she said in the interview.
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“Do I wish that this all hadn’t been done all of a sudden and so that people weren’t surprised by it? Of course.”
Republican anger has been growing since the mass release came to light on Monday. Immigration officials reportedly said the decision was made to prepare for the sequester, which would limit the number of detainees held.
The White House and Homeland Security have said they didn’t know about the release beforehand. One official told The Hill newspaper earlier this week that ICE administrators regularly release low-risk legal immigrants into less costly programs without the need for sign-off approval.
Immigration and Customs Director John Morton also tried to quell Republican concerns, promising to respond to a letter by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul asking how many detainees had been released and what the agency was doing to track illegal immigrants, according to The Hill.
In a separate letter to Napolitano requesting more information on the release, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte criticized the “poorly reasoned” decision and accused the secretary of not effectively preparing for the sequester.
The letter from the two top Republicans on the Senate and House Judiciary committees also said the move violated her department’s main mission of protecting the public’s safety, the Hill reported.
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