Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the Obama administration's decision to release hundreds of illegal immigrants now detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could hurt the chances that Republicans and Democrats can strike a deal on immigration reform this year.
According to ICE, the 5.3 percent budget cut that it faces under the looming March 1 sequester made it necessary to free the detainees under a "supervised release" program.
Sessions said the move endangers public safety and is avoidable because ICE can find other ways to achieve the savings needed under sequestration.
Sessions noted ICE had months of warning that the cuts were coming and could have planned differently.
"It is clear the administration is using the sequester as a convenient excuse to bow to political pressure from the amnesty groups, as it did with its unilateral decision to confer legal status on millions who are not lawfully present," Sessions said in a statement, referring to President Obama's decision to grant legal status to some people who arrived here illegally as children. "With this new action, the administration has further demonstrated that it has no commitment to enforcing the law and cannot be trusted to deliver on any future promises of enforcement."
Lawmakers in both parties are working on a bill that would reform the nation's immigration laws and beef up border security. A meeting on immigration reform was planned Tuesday at the White House between Obama and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
Pro-amnesty groups praised the move by ICE as a humane way to save millions in taxpayer dollars, while critics said it showed Obama is playing politics with the sequester and using it as a way to undermine the nation's immigration laws.