Feds Deny Gary Mead's Departure Tied to Immigrant Releases

PHOTO: Napolitano and ICE director make announcement on immigration enforcement.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Napolitano and ICE director make announcement on immigration enforcement.

A federal agency denied on Wednesday that a Homeland Security official's departure was connected to a controversial decision to release immigration detainees in the face of mandatory budget cuts.

The Associated Press reported that Gary Mead, who is in charge of enforcement and removal operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told colleagues on Tuesday that he would leave the agency, just after the releases were announced.

But ICE called the report "inaccurate and misleading," saying that Mead's departure had been planned weeks in advance.

"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," spokesperson Gillian Christensen said in a statement. "As planned, and as shared with ICE staff weeks ago, Mr. Mead will retire at the end of April."

Immigrant activists have lauded ICE's decision to release several hundred immigration detainees from jails, but Republican lawmakers have slammed the ruling. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) penned a letter to ICE Director John Morton expressing concern with the decision.

"This is very hard for me to believe, that they can't find cuts elsewhere in their agency," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told CBS News in an interview. "I frankly think this is outrageous."

The decision to release detainees was made in light of looming sequester spending cuts that would reduce funds available to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE.

"This was a decision made by career officials at ICE without any input from the White House, as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution, as well as possible sequestration," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.

The people who were released from prisons were "low-risk, non-criminal detainees," according to Carney. Their release does not mean they will be excused from further immigration proceedings. They will still be expected to appear in immigration court if their cases are called by a judge and the government will continue to monitor them by other, less expensive means, according to ICE.