Washington • The senior Homeland Security Department official in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants announced his resignation the same day the agency said that hundreds of people facing deportation had been released from immigration jails due to looming budget cuts, according to a resignation letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. The government said he had told his bosses weeks ago that he planned to retire.
Gary Mead, executive associate director over enforcement and removal operations at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, disclosed his departure in an email to his staff Tuesday afternoon. The announcement of the release of the illegal immigrants had come earlier in the day.
President Barack Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, said Wednesday that the decision to release the immigrants was made without any input from the White House. He described the immigrants as "low-risk, non-criminal detainees."
The announcement that a few hundred illegal immigrants were being released was among the most significant and direct implications described so far by the Obama administration about the automatic budget cuts that will take effect Friday under what is known as sequestration.
Republicans in Congress quickly criticized the decision and pressed the Homeland Security Department for details.
A spokeswoman for Homeland Security, Gillian Christensen, said Tom Homan will succeed Mead as acting executive associate director.