ICE director faces frosty reception next week on Capitol Hill

The Obama administration’s top immigration official faces a frosty reception on Capitol Hill next week when he appears before a panel to explain the release of hundreds of illegal immigrants from detention centers, a move that caught lawmakers off guard.

In advance testimony, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton said he regrets not giving Congress a heads up about the release. Morton said he wants to work with lawmakers to avoid future miscommunication on the agency’s actions.

“I regret that the timing of our releases caught many by surprise and we would be happy to brief your staffs further on this issue,” said Morton in his prepared remarks before the House Judiciary Committee.

Morton’s testimony echoes similar sentiments expressed in a separate letter to House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) earlier this week.

“I regret that the timing of our releases caught some by surprise and we will work with the committee to avoid any such confusion in the future,” Morton wrote.

The administration has been on the defensive since news surfaced that ICE had released “several hundred” detainees. Internal budget documents from the agency that have since been made public suggest that as many as several thousand illegal immigrants may have been released onto a less costly supervised monitoring program.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteHouse Judiciary Chair expected to issue DOJ subpoena over Clinton emails as soon as this week GOP leaders back second special counsel GOP chairman threatens subpoena for FBI records on Clinton probe MORE (R-Va.) will have the first go at grilling Morton on Tuesday. Together with the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone GOP leaders back second special counsel MORE (R-Iowa), Goodlatte penned a highly critical letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano two weeks ago asking for more information.

A committee aide said that Goodlatte has not received any correspondence from Morton, aside from his advanced testimony.

Goodlatte is expected to question Morton for details on exactly how many illegal immigrants were released in the move that ICE and White House officials have described being made by career agency officials in an effort to deal with the automatic budget cuts put into place with sequestration.

There are a number of remaining questions on the move, which Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew Boehner4 reasons Mike Pompeo will succeed at Foggy Bottom The misunderstood reason Congress can’t get its job done GOP sees McCarthy moving up — if GOP loses the House MORE (R-Ohio) called “outrageous.”  Republican leaders are showing no signs of relenting in their criticism.

Grassley introduced an amendment to the Senate’s continuing resolution bill earlier this week that would force ICE to give Congress answers to many of their questions, including the nature of the crimes the detainees are alleged to have originally committed.

Administration officials have stressed that only low-risk illegal immigrants were released onto the monitoring program and that they all continue to be in deportation proceedings. The monitoring program was started under President George W. Bush as a less expensive alternative to housing people in detention facilities.

Grassley’s measure has garnered the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee Spending bill delay raises risk of partial government shutdown support GOP leaders to Trump: Leave Mueller alone MORE (R-Ky.) and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators to Trump: Keep pressure on North Korea while exploring talks Why did this administration back the Palestine Liberation Organization in terrorism case? Overnight Defense: Top general says countering Iran in Syria isn't US mission | Trump, Boeing reach 'informal' agreement for new Air Force One | Chair warns of Russian mercenaries in Syria MORE (R-Okla.), David VitterDavid Bruce VitterTrump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge Where is due process in all the sexual harassment allegations? Not the Senate's job to second-guess Alabama voters MORE (R-La.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanSpending talks face new pressure Bill to bolster gun background checks gains enough support to break filibuster Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA MORE (R-Ark.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsRural America hopes Trump hasn't forgotten his promise Republicans slam Trump's tariffs plan Senate Republicans float legislation to reverse Trump tariffs MORE (R-Kan.) and Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsGOP senator blocking Trump's Intel nominee NSA nominee sails through second confirmation hearing New attacks spark concerns about Iranian cyber threat MORE (R-Ind.).

In his letter to McCaul, Morton said ICE was keeping an average of 35,176 illegal immigrants in detention facilities as of Feb. 4, 2013, which exceeds the 34,000 beds that Congress requires it to maintain.

“With such high levels of detention and with the looming possibility of sequestration, ICE officials had to lower the detention population in order to ensure that we did not overspend the funds provided by Congress under the continuing resolution,” wrote Morton.

By the end of February, ICE reported filling 30,773 beds. Republicans have repeatedly asked for answers about how the agency ensures that it meets congressional requirements on bed levels.

Morton said that while the average number of filled beds at detention facilities will fluctuate from month to month, “ICE always seeks to manage its detention beds to maintain the average funded over the course of the given appropriation.”