Washington (CNN) - The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is releasing "several hundred" people out of detention facilities to other "less costly" forms of supervision because of pending forced budget cuts, the agency said on Tuesday.
Gillian Christensen, a customs enforcement spokeswoman, said the cases were reviewed over the past week as part of agency preparations for $85 billion government-wide cuts due to take effect on Friday absent congressional action to avert them.
"As fiscal uncertainty remains over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration, ICE has reviewed its detained population to ensure detention levels stay within ICE's current budget," she said in a statement.
"ICE has reviewed several hundred cases and placed these individuals on methods of supervision less costly than detention. All of these individuals remain in removal proceedings. Priority for detention remains on serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety," she said.
That move prompted an incredulous reaction from House Speaker John Boehner, who said on CBS the release of detainees was “outrageous.”
"This is very hard for me to believe, that they can't find cuts elsewhere in their agency,” Boehner said, adding: “I'm looking for more facts but I can't believe that they can't find the kind of savings they need out of that department short of letting criminals go free."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican and a vocal critic of President Barack Obama, called the move "pure political posturing and the height of absurdity."
Republican leaders have criticized Obama administration warnings as scare tactics, but also said the cuts would be bad policy and should be changed. Only rigid fiscal conservatives have backed the concept of mandatory deep spending cuts as a painful first step of deficit reduction.
Obama said on Tuesday in Newport News, Virginia, that the spending cuts are a "self-inflicted wound" that do not have to occur. He called on Congress to reach an agreement to avert the harshest impacts.
Separately on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder warned the spending cuts, also called sequestration, would leave Americans "less safe."
"We'll do the best that we can to minimize the harm that actually occurs as a result of the sequestration, but the reality is there is going to be harm," Holder told the National Association of Attorneys General in Washington.
Holder had barely finished his remarks when the leading Republican on the committee that oversees the Justice Department sent Holder a sharply critical letter about the agency's plans.
Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, cited a recent Holder letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee outlining operational cuts in spending for the FBI and other agencies totaling about $1.6 billion.
CNN's Kevin Liptak, Terry Frieden and Carol Cratty contributed to this report.