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.

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“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 Committee subpoenas FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts Trump tweet may doom House GOP effort on immigration House still plans immigration vote next week despite Trump's tweet 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 GrassleyGrassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report Senate Dems call for Judiciary hearing on Trump's 'zero tolerance' Republicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt 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 BoehnerFormer top Treasury official to head private equity group GOP strategist Steve Schmidt denounces party, will vote for Democrats Zeal, this time from the center 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 McConnellFive things to know about efforts to repeal Obama's water rule Mulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Senate left in limbo by Trump tweets, House delays MORE (R-Ky.) and Sens. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Obstacles to Trump's 'Space Force' could keep proposal grounded for now The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Trump caves under immense pressure — what now? MORE (R-Okla.), David VitterDavid Bruce VitterSenate panel advances Trump nominee who wouldn't say if Brown v. Board of Education was decided correctly Planned Parenthood targets judicial nominee over abortion comments Trump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge MORE (R-La.), John BoozmanJohn Nichols Boozman13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Overnight Defense: Top general defends Afghan war progress | VA shuffles leadership | Pacific Command gets new leader, name | Pentagon sued over HIV policy Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill MORE (R-Ark.), Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsModerates need to hold firm against radical right on Farm Bill GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis MORE (R-Kan.) and Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsGOP senator places hold on Trump counterintelligence nominee Civil liberties groups press Trump administration on NSA call record collection Trump’s ‘Syraqistan’ strategy is a success — and a failure 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.”