Washington: Challenging White House`s claim that it had nothing to do with the release of over 2,000 immigration detainees from jail, opposition Republicans have suggested it was motivated by politics rather than forced budget cuts.
"From this vantage point, it does look like the decision to release detainees was a political determination and not a monetary determination," said Republican House member Trey Gowdy during a Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.
The Republicans have sharply criticised the February release of 2,228 immigrants saying the Obama administration was freeing foreign criminals to dramatise its opposition to the automatic federal spending cuts that went into effect March 1.
John Morton, the director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the panel 70 percent of those released had no criminal record at all and that more than 600 had criminal records mostly for non-violent offenses and did not pose a danger.
A couple of people in the worst offender category were mistakenly released but have been returned to custody. He said others in that category pose no danger, including one man whose conviction occurred 40 years ago.
"There are no mass releases of dangerous criminals under way, just efforts to live within our budget," Morton said. He said all of the detainees were kept under another form of supervision and that their deportation proceedings will continue.
Committee`s Republican Chairman Bob Goodlatte said Morton should have found other ways to cut the budget. "Irresponsible decisions to release detained illegal immigrants unreasonably and unnecessarily put the public at risk," he said.
Asked whether he had sought permission to find cuts from other areas instead of releasing detainees, Morton said he had not. "Our single largest appropriation is for custody operations, and we were trying to live within our budget."
Morton said he did "not want to rob Peter to pay Paul" and cut from other key programmes, including border operations and efforts to prevent child exploitation.