Immigration and Customs Enforcement released 342 illegal immigrants being detained in Arizona last month on the basis of anticipated budget cuts, officials confirmed today.

After weeks of denials, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday that ICE had ,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.

Of detainees released to supervised programs in Arizona, 64 percent were classified as non-criminal illegal immigrants.

One person who was released here was classified as a “Level 1” offender. Though that’s the most serious category for an immigration detainee and can include people convicted of aggravated felonies like homicide or drug trafficking, ICE Director John Morton told lawmakers Friday that many of the people released were convicted of financial crimes or multiple traffic offenses like DUI.

Morton confirmed media reports to lawmakers during a congressional committee Thursday that the agency had released 2,228 people solely due to budget cuts in a three-week period starting Feb. 9

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.

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Senior Editor, News, Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Az.