Homeland Security Official Steps Down After Immigrants Freed

A senior Homeland Security Department official announced his retirement on Tuesday, the same day the agency released hundreds of illegal immigrants from jails.

The official, Gary Mead, is in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants. He announced his retirement the same day that hundreds of people facing deportation were released from immigration jails.

Mead announced his departure through an email to his staff on Tuesday afternoon, reports The Associated Press.

The release of the immigrants was blamed on upcoming budget cuts called the sequester. The announcement of their release was made earlier on Tuesday.

White House spokesman Jay Carney assured that the decision to release the immigrants was made without any input from the White House. He stated, however, that the immigrants released were "low-risk, non-criminal detainees."

The decision to release them was immediately criticized by Congress. ABC News notes that Immigrtion and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied a connection between Gary Mead's retirement and the release of immigrants. Spokesperson Gillian Christensen stated:

"Gary Mead announced several weeks ago to ICE senior leadership that he planned to retire after 40 years in federal service and 5 years at ICE. As planned, and as shared with ICE staff weeks ago, Mr. Mead will retire at the end of April."
ICE's decision was made by "career officials" at ICE. It was blamed on "fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution, as well as possible sequestration," according to Carney.

The immigrants released on Tuesday will still have to appear in immigration court should their cases be called by a judge. They also still face possible deportation.

The decision to release immigrants came after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that the DHS may not be able to maintain the 34,000 jail beds it currently holds for immigration offenders, because of mandatory budget cuts. Napolitano also warned the cuts would hurt the department's core missions.

While President Obama has met with congressional leaders to discuss a resolution to the upcoming sequester, nothing has been done to avert it. It also appears that Gary Mead's retirement has no connection to the immigrants released on Tuesday.