WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- The White House is insisting it was unaware ahead of time that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had started releasing hundreds of detainees ahead of across the board budget cuts.
The move has provoked fury from immigration hawks and cheers from immigrant activists.
A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement is refusing to even tell us if any detainees have been released locally.
In Tucson, Cesar Laurenti is among the hundreds of federal detainees released by ICE ahead of the across-the-board sequester budget cuts and he says he was jumping up and down with joy when he learned he was getting out. "I want to comply with the laws and go to court," said Laurenti.
The White House says the immigrants ICE is releasing are low-risk, non-criminals. But a furious Corey Stewart -- an anti-illegal immigrant hawk and Chair of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors -- says the feds up to now have only been detaining immigrants who have committed other crimes.
"The fundamental job of the federal government is to keep us safe, and releasing criminal illegal aliens is not keeping the public safe," says Stewart. "This is another attempt by the Obama Administration to scare people into tax increases instead of budget cuts."
But among Latino activists, there had been growing impatience with the President.
"He is also known for more deportations than any President ever before him. And that is really painful and sad," says Jose Sueiro, the DC publisher of MetroDiversity.com.
Sueiro says there's now joy that the Obama Administration is releasing what may end up being thousands of undocumented immigrants. He says, "I'm all for it. I think they should release more people. I think they detain too many people."
ICE says the former detainees will still be supervised and subject to removal. Advocates say most immigrants do turn up for their removal hearings. They also say it costs far more to detain people than to keep them on something like electronic monitoring. So this potentially could save a lot of money.