(Associated Press) After weeks of denials, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday that it had, in fact, released more than 2,000 illegal immigrants from immigration jails due to budget concerns during three weeks in February. Four of the most serious offenders have been put back in detention.

The administration had insisted that only a “few hundred” immigrants were released for budgetary reasons, challenging as inaccurate a March 1 report by The Associated Press that the agency had released more than 2,000 immigrants in February and planned to release more than 3,000 others this month. Intense criticism led to a temporary shutdown of the plan.

The director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Morton, told a congressional panel Thursday that the agency had actually released 2,228 people from immigration jails over the course of three weeks, starting February 9, for what he described as “solely budgetary reasons.” They included 10 people considered the highest level of offender.

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