March 29, 2013 By Michael Volpe

The claim made by the Obama administration that sequester was the reason for releasing thousands of suspected illegal aliens onto America’s streets starting mid-February 2013 has come under further scrutiny due to new revelations. Recently it has come to light that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency overseeing the release, didn’t follow proper protocols for managing their budgets after the prisoner population increased for a period during the months of October, November, and December of 2012.

Speaking in front of the House Judiciary Committee on March 19, 2013, ICE Director John Morton told the committee that in the months of October, November, and December of 2012, the detainee population in ICE facilities ballooned to between 35,000 and 37,000. ICE was only appropriated to hold an average of 34,000 detainees. Morton claimed that this increase in the population was the main reason, along with the sequester, that thousands of detainees were released starting on February 15, 2013.

According to staff on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, if this was the problem, none of the proper committees were notified at the proper time, nor were any other proper protocols followed.

Sara Threadgill is the press secretary for U.S. Rep John Carter (R-TX). Carter is chairman of the Homeland Security Sub-Committee of the House Appropriations Committee. As such, Carter is the point person for all funding issues for ICE, which is a part of DHS. She said that the Obama administration never claimed prisoner populations were a problem when they are now claiming this was the case. Threadgill said:

The Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations does receive reports regarding the number of detention beds ICE is using. They are aware that operations vary based on time of year and other factors but the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Appropriations was not made aware of what was happening until the illegal criminals were released.

Front Page Magazine also contacted a number of staffers on the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee, but heard nothing back as of publication.

Threadgill also pointed out that the administration had other alternatives besides releasing detainees.

“They had other options. For example, they never sought reprogramming/transfer authority, particularly for unobligated fee balances, that would have made a difference.”

During the hearing, Morton admitted that he could have used the transfer authority, but declined.

“We can seek reprogramming requirements, that is absolutely true, Mr. Chairman, and we did not in this instance,” Morton told House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) during the hearing. “I did not want to rob Peter to pay Paul. My view is that we need to maintain the operations of the agency, I did not want to furlough people, and my view is that I need to make rational decisions across the [agency accounts].”

By this Morton suggested that money to pay for holding extra detainees would come at the expense of other operations: undercover assignments, border patrol, customs, etc. Numerous Republicans challenged that argument during the House Judiciary hearing. They argued that about $100-120 million was sitting in unused funds from excess user fees, and it could have been used to make up the difference.

Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-TX) took an especially tough stance on that issue during the hearing:

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.

This comes as the administration’s narrative continues to be challenged on numerous fronts. For instance, while the administration claims that it was the sequester that cut these detainees, it can’t explain why they had to release almost ten thousand of the 34,000 they normally hold, when the sequester is at worst a 5% cut, or the equivalent of 1,700 detainees.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and he hammered on this point in a press release following the hearing:

The sequester mandated a 5% cut at ICE but the agency released more than 5% of detained criminal and illegal immigrants. These facts make it appear that the decision to release more than 600 convicted criminals and others facing charges into our communities was more of a political calculation than a budgetary necessity. This decision not only undermines ICE’s credibility but also undercuts the American people’s trust in this Administration’s ability to enforce our immigration laws.

Furthermore, Front Page Magazine reported exclusively last week that the Obama administration’s ICE Public Advocate met with a number of left-wing groups at several locations spread sporadically throughout the country in the months just prior to the release. These sorts of groups have argued for years that the Obama administration has been too heavy-handed in arresting and detaining suspected illegal aliens, pointing to the Obama administration’s own boasting of record deportation figures.

Meanwhile, the administration, which once claimed it would be the most transparent in history, has yet to produce any of the career bureaucrats who were alleged to have been responsible for the decision.

Even though all this presents a number of conflicting stories, the administration has been short on answers. ICE officials didn’t respond to an email from Front Page Magazine to explain this latest revelation that they failed to follow proper protocols.

There is a bit of good news on this matter, however. In the continuing resolution passed by the House and Senate which funds the government until September, the appropriations committee appropriated enough money so that ICE would maintain an average of 34,000 per day again.

“The bill also provides $138 million to complete the deployment of the Secure Communities program, and $2.8 billion for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, providing a total of 34,000 beds – maintaining the highest detention capacity in history. The bill also prohibits funds for the ICE Public Advocate, “

It should be noted that, while it is buried, the current budget cuts all funds to the ICE Public Advocate, the office that organized those controversial meetings in the months prior to the release of the detainees in February.

This story continues to unfold and it’s still not entirely clear why all these suspected illegal aliens were released, but it is clear that the administration has told a series of stories all in contradiction with each other and with other known facts.

Did ICE Director John Morton Deceive Congress?