"Detainee populations and how that is managed back and forth is really handled by career officials in the field," Napolitano told ABC. "Do I wish that this all hadn't been done all of a sudden and so that people weren't surprised by it? Of course."
The announcement that a few hundred illegal immigrants were being released was among the most significant and direct implications described so far by the automatic budget cuts. Republicans in Congress quickly criticized the decision and pressed the Homeland Security Department for details, including the number of illegal immigrants released and the nature of any criminal charges they were facing as part of the deportation process.
"Simply blaming budget reductions as a means to turn a blind eye toward the national security of the American people is a dangerous plan, and one that calls into question the department's preparations for sequestration," wrote two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who sits on the Senate panel that oversees the Department of Homeland Security, harshly criticized the administration for downplaying the number of immigrants released, adding the revelation "makes it less and less possible for lawmakers to have productive negotiations with the White House over a comprehensive immigration bill."
The senior Homeland Security Department official in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants announced his retirement to his staff on Tuesday, the same day the administration first openly confirmed the release of what it called several hundred immigrants. The executive associate director over ICE enforcement and removal operations, Gary Mead, told his staff he was leaving his job with mixed emotions. A career law enforcement officer, Mead will leave at the end of April.
After AP reported on Mead's retirement, ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said his decision was not related to criticism over the jail releases and said Mead had notified the agency's senior leaders "several weeks ago" that he intended to leave. She also called AP's reporting about Mead's departure "inaccurate and misleading." On Thursday, ICE corrected her statement to say that Mead has notified his bosses "more than a week ago," not several weeks ago.
The later government statement also criticized AP's reporting as "ill-informed, inaccurate information" and complained that AP had failed to contact the agency before publishing what it called a "misguided headline," although the AP had noted its unsuccessful efforts to contact Mead directly by telephone and email.
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