Amid a furor over its decision Monday to release hundreds of immigrant detainees in response to budget cuts, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is denying that a top official’s exit has anything to do with the new detention policy.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reported that Gary Mead, who is charge of enforcement and removal operations for ICE, e-mailed coworkers Tuesday that he was resigning, effective in April, after news broke that the agency was freeing scores of immigrants from its detention centers. The report noted the timing, but did not state the reasons for Mead’s exit, leading to speculation Mead either resigned in protest or was forced out for mishandling the matter.
But Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for ICE, told TPM in a statement that any insinuations that the resignation was connected to the detainee decision were off base.
“The Associated Press’ report is inaccurate and misleading,” Christensen said. “U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Gary Mead announced several weeks ago to ICE senior leadership that he planned to retire after 40 years in federal service and 6 years at ICE. As planned, and as shared with ICE staff weeks ago, Mr. Mead will retire at the end of April.”
ICE officials announced the release of several hundred detainees on Monday in response to coming sequester cuts, saying they could not maintain their current capacity without greater resources.
“I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters earlier this week, just before the news broke. “How do I pay for those?”
Republicans were outraged by the move, with a number of top lawmakers accusing the White House of deliberately threatening public safety in order to dramatize the impact of the sequester.
“It’s abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said in a statement on Tuesday. “By releasing criminal immigrants onto the streets, the Administration is needlessly endangering American lives.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that the move was ICE’s alone and that President Obama and his staff were not involved in the decision making process. ICE also disputed the notion that it was releasing dangerous detainees.
“The detainees who’ve been released can be characterized as non-criminals and other low risk offenders who do not have serious criminal histories that would subject them to mandatory detention,” spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez told TPM the same day. “Detainees with serious criminal histories are a detention priority and have not been released.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.