D.C.

Gary Mead, DHS official, retires after immigrants are freed

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WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) - The senior Homeland Security Department official in charge of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants announced his retirement 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 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 pending, automatic budget cuts that will take effect later this week under what is known as sequestration.

Republicans in Congress quickly criticized the decision and pressed the Homeland Security Department for details.

In Prince William County, where tensions over immigration policy have long divided voters, word of the release of illegal immigrants in federal custody spread quickly.

Jeanie Eckenroth of Prince William County said, "Everyone's to blame. Someone's got to find a way to compromise...I used to vote Republican. I will never vote Republican again."

Republicans insist the release was unnecessary and simply meant to scare voters who are already anxious about budget cuts.

"I would have to agree with Republicans," Springfield resident Jerry Dawson said. "They could have found a better way."

With neither side getting closer to a compromise, Monday on Capitol Hill was more of the blame game, with Republican leaders saying it's the president's party who runs Washington.

Senator Mitch McConnell, (R) Senate Minority Leader, said, " We are still ready to work with them to get something responsible passed, but we can't do it alone. The president's party runs Washington. It is time they got off the campaign trail and start working with us to govern for a change."

At a Wal-Mart in Prince William County, voters say they have to stick to a budget so why can't Congress.

Jeanie Eckenroth of Woodbridge said, "Congress should all be fired across the board...Go home and clean floors for a living - that's what you're good for. "

President Barack Obama's spokesman said Wednesday the White House was never consulted but described the immigrants as "low-risk, non-criminal detainees."

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