PHOENIX -- The Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Congress Thursday that his agency released more than 2,200 illegal immigrants from jail last month alone. The agency said budget constraints forced the action.
That figure was significantly higher than the "few hundred" immigrants the Obama administration had acknowledged were released due to budgeting.
Under oath Thursday, ICE Director John Morton told lawmakers, "We were trying to live within the budget that Congress had provided us. This was not a White House call. I take full responsibility."
The numbers line up with what Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has been saying all along. He says ICE "whistleblowers" told him that thousands of detainees were released in Arizona. Some of them were said to be dangerous criminals.
Some Republican lawmakers are now calling for Morton's resignation. "Rather than making common sense cuts like reducing administrative staffing, cutting overhead or taking other action, ICE chose to release thousands of known criminals directly on to our streets and into our communities," testified Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama.
The immigrants who were released will still eventually face deportation and are required to appear for upcoming legal hearings. But they're no longer confined in immigration jails, where advocacy experts say they cost about $164 per day, per person.
Immigrants who are granted supervised release - with conditions that can include mandatory check-ins, home visits and GPS devices - cost the government from 30 cents to $14 a day, according to the National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants.
Morton said Thursday that among the immigrants released were 10 people considered the highest level of offender. He also said that while that category of offender can include people convicted of aggravated felonies, many of the people released were facing financial crimes.
Four of the most serious offenders have been put back in detention. Morton says that others released include immigrants who had faced drunken driving offenses, misdemeanor crimes and traffic offenses.