Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton admitted that he could have avoided releasing 2,228 illegal immigrant detainees by asking Congress for flexibility under sequestration, but he never made an effort to do so.
“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 a hearing this afternoon. “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].”
“Reprogramming requirements” refers to a request to “reprogram” how an agency spends the money allotted to it by Congress. Morton’s answer not only makes clear that he could have avoided releasing those detainees — 70 percent of which had no criminal record, he emphasized — but also supports the Republican argument that President Obama already has the flexibility to handle the sequester. In fact, Republicans have invited the Obama administration to “reprogram” the sequester.
“We sent out on Feb. 28 a letter to every Cabinet officer asking them what changes they’d like to have — pluses, subtractions and so on — to give them an opportunity to show us at least one program they would like to have cut, which would then save on sequestration,” Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told The Washington Examiner’s Byron York. “We did not receive a single answer.”
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member on the committee, called the hearing much ado about nothing.
“Ninety-three percent of the people released by ICE were non-criminals or low, low-level offenders,” Conyers said in his opening statement. “It seems that [the release policy] was motivated by overzealous use of detention in late 2012 combined with poor communication between the people in charge of ICE’s budget and the people in charge of its enforcement operations.”