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DHS official to resign after hundreds of illegal immigrants released from jails

Published time: February 27, 2013 21:08
John Moore / Getty Images / AFP

John Moore / Getty Images / AFP

A leading official with the United States Department of Homeland Security has resigned after it was revealed earlier in the week that the DHS ordered the release of hundreds of illegal immigrants detained in US jails.

Gary Mead, the executive associate director for the Homeland Security Department’s immigration enforcement and removal operations, told colleagues this week that he will resign at the end of April. An email circulated to his co-workers was obtained by the AP, who broke the story on Wednesday.

According to the AP, Mead sent the email to his Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) coworkers on Tuesday evening, only hours after news first broke that hundreds of detainees held in DHS immigration jails were being released in advance of looming budget cuts all but certain to impact a number of federal departments.

Within an hour of the AP's story, ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen called reports of Mead's resignation "inaccurate and misleading." Mead's retirement, she said, has been long planned for the end of April.

When the story first broke, Christensen told the Associated Press that immigrants in jails across the US were being "placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release” due in part to the sequester budget cuts expected to save the country over $1 trillion during the next decade. The detainees in question, she said, would not be those “who pose a significant threat to public safety."

Following news of the decision, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the decision “reflects the lack of resource prioritization," and personally wrote to ICE Director John Morton to call the maneuver "indicative of the Department [of Homeland Security]’s weak stance on national security."

“All I can say is look, we’re doing our very best to minimize the impacts of sequester,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a press briefing Monday. “But there’s only so much I can do. I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration. How do I pay for those?” Under budget cuts, Napolitano said her department “would not be able to maintain the 34,000 detention beds as required by Congress."

The announcement of Mead’s resignation comes only two days after word of the scandal first got wind. He didn’t act fast enough to thwart attacks from critics, however, who took two different arguments in assaulting the decision to put hundreds of non-violent offenders back on the street. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said to CBS News that the decision was “outrageous,” adding, “I can’t believe that they can’t find the kind of savings they need out of that department short of letting criminals go free.” Others took the opposite stance, attacking DHS for detaining hundreds of illegal immigrants for reasons that now suddenly don’t matter.

“The people being released today are people ICE could have released months – or in some cases, years – ago,” Mohammad Abdollahi, member of the Dreamer-led National Immigrant Youth Alliance, said to the Huffington Post.

“It shouldn’t take a manufactured crisis in Washington to prompt our immigration agencies to actually take steps towards using government resources wisely or keeping families together,” Carolina Canizales of United We Dream added to the New York Times.

As the scandal intensified, even the White House tried to distance itself from ICE’s policies. "This was a decision made by career officials at ICE without any input from the White House, as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution, as well as possible sequestration," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.

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