WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The release of illegal immigrants from detention due to budget concerns was undertaken with care to ensure that security was not compromised, the head of the immigration enforcement agency said on Tuesday.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement released hundreds of detained illegal immigrants last month because of budget concerns, sparking a political furor about potential safety issues.
Mandatory budget cuts government-wide known as sequestration began on March 1, and the government has also been operating on a continuing resolution which funds agencies until March 27.
The cuts require a nearly $300 million reduction in the agency's budget over the seven remaining months of the fiscal year, ICE Director John Morton, said in prepared testimony for a House Judiciary Committee hearing in the afternoon.
"In reducing detention levels, we took careful steps to ensure that national security and public safety were not compromised by the releases," Morton said.
"Every individual released was placed on an alternative form of ICE's supervision, and all released individuals remain in removal proceedings," he said. "I regret that the timing of our releases caught many by surprise."
Morton said the releases were a direct result of the agency's efforts to stay within its detention budget. "ICE will continue to manage its budget in a prioritized manner, ensuring that the focus remains on serious criminal offenders and others who pose a threat to public safety," he said.
(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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