The White House says it played no part in a decision by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) to release hundreds of undocumented immigrants from detention as a cost-savings measure.
"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 sequester," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a regular briefing
ICE officials confirmed this week that field officers have reviewed the cases of several hundred foreign nationals and placed them under a less expensive monitoring system than detention.
The decision came just days ahead of a Friday deadline for members of Congress to avert massive budget cuts that will automatically take effect if they don't reach a deal on how to reduce the $16 trillion national debt.
Immigration advocacy groups hailed the detainee release as long overdue, but critics in Congress accused President Barack Obama of using a political scare-tactic to push lawmakers to follow his economic agenda. Some Republican lawmakers also warned that releasing the detainees could put the public at risk.
White House spokesman Carney emphasized that out of the more than 30,000 immigrants in ICE detention, the few hundred released were "low-risk, non-criminal detainees."
ICE has not confirmed that, offering no details about the specific number or location of the people affected, or why they were detained in the first place. The agency says it will continue to seek their deportation, if so ordered by an immigration court.