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Geez Criminy - is there NOTHING this administration won't do for political gain?

The top U.S. immigration enforcement official acknowledged Thursday that the  Obama administration has in fact released thousands of illegal immigrants from  local jails over the last month despite prior claims that the release was only  in the hundreds.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, at a House  appropriations subcommittee hearing, said the agency released a total of 2,228  illegal immigrants from local jails "throughout the country" between Feb. 9 and  March 1 for "solely budgetary reasons."

For the first time, he explained the kinds of detainees that were sprung from  local jails -- he said they included detainees held on theft charges, financial  criminals and drunken drivers.

"In some cases, multiple DUIs," Morton acknowledged. He also said 10  individuals labeled as "Level 1" offenders -- the most serious classification --  were released, but that four have since been brought back into custody. That  category can include assault cases but Morton said the detainees were mostly in  for financial offenses.

Morton stressed that the releases were made on a case-by-case basis and not  "willy-nilly."

"There are no mass releases of dangerous criminals under way or any plan for  the future," he said.

But the subcommittee chairman, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, claimed the  detainees could still pose a "risk" and questioned why ICE didn't seek  additional authority to move around its budgeted money.

ICE has claimed that it was operating under a constrained budget -- with a  short-term budget expiring at the end of the month and the sequester kicking in  March 1.

But Morton's acknowledgement that more than 2,000 were released appeared to  conflict with prior claims from the administration, which said it was only  releasing hundreds.

The Associated Press first reported March 1 that the administration had  released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants since at least Feb. 15 and planned  to release 3,000 more in March due to looming budget cuts, but Homeland Security  Secretary Janet Napolitano said days later that the AP's report was "not really  accurate" and that the story had developed "its own mythology."

"Several hundred are related to sequester, but it wasn't thousands,"  Napolitano said March 4 at a Politico-sponsored event.

On March 5, the House Judiciary Committee publicly released an internal ICE  document that it said described the agency's plans to release thousands of  illegal immigrants before March 31.

Morton now says multiple factors were driving the release, but it took until  now for the agency to provide the number.

Republicans have said the release was part of a campaign by the  administration to make budget cuts look as bad as possible.

"At the time this release started, the president of the United States was  going around the country telling people what the pain was going to be from  sequester," Carter said. "That's a fact. That was the atmosphere. It was Chicken  Little, the sky is falling almost."

Morton told Carter that more immigrants were released in Texas than in any  other state, but did not name other states where they were released.

The immigrants who were released still eventually face deportation and are  required to appear for upcoming court hearings. But they are no longer confined  in immigration jails, where advocacy experts say they cost about $164 per day,  per person. Immigrants who are granted supervised release -- with conditions  that can include mandatory check-ins, home visits and GPS devices -- cost the  government from 30 cents to $14 a day, according to the National Immigration  Forum, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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