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Republicans call foul on release of immigrant detainees (+video)

Immigration officials say the detainee release was a bureaucratic necessity to prepare for sequester budget cuts. But the move has raised questions about whether the administration is playing politics.

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The move this week by US immigration officials to release hundreds, possibly thousands, of detained illegal immigrants to prepare for automatic spending cuts has Republicans calling foul. It’s renewed lingering questions on the right about how serious President Obama is about immigration enforcement, and even whether Congress still has a role to play in how the administration oversees the nation’s borders.

To be sure, Mr. Obama has overseen record numbers of annual deportations since he took office, and his administration has beefed up patrols along the US-Mexico border, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Also, the White House on Wednesday denied any prior knowledge of the detainee release, calling it the purview of career Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) bureaucrats dealing with a 5 percent cut in discretionary spending that could start Friday.

But critics on the Hill suggest the detainee release, announced Tuesday by ICE officials, is in fact part of a broader, ongoing executive strategy to circumvent congressional mandates. In this case, they say, the goal is a new national immigration policy that’s dictated not by Congress, but by the White House.

Either way, the move comes at a sensitive time for immigration policy, as congressional leaders are attempting to shepherd a compromise immigration-reform bill through the chambers. A major potential holdup for that plan is whether Republicans can trust the Obama White House to enforce US immigration law.

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