Flooded with a wave of immigrants from Central America, the Obama administration announced Friday it will open new facilities to house families caught crossing the border illegally.
Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said about 39,000 adults with children have been taken into custody since Oct. 1. Without a place to keep them — and with many not from Mexico — the government has simply processed them and released them at bus stations throughout the Southwest with orders to report at a future date to immigration officials.
That process has resulted in a firestorm of protest from Arizona officials, including a threat by Attorney General Tom Horne to sue.
The transfer of families who were apprehended in Texas, where there has been a surge of migrants, has since stopped. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still processing and releasing in Arizona families taken into custody in this state.
Mayorkas said the detention facilities would supplement the existing capacity, which is currently fewer than 100 beds. But he said no decision has been made how many new sites would be set up, how many families they could hold and where they would be located.
`We will work to ensure, of course, that the detention of adults with children is done as humanely as possible and in an appropriate setting that meets legal standards,'' he told reporters Friday in a conference call.
But Mayorkas said his agency is not simply looking at putting more people into detention while they await deportation hearings. He said he intends to speed up the process, adding immigration judges, attorneys and asylum officers.
"When an individual's case is fully heard and it is found that the individual does not qualify for asylum, he or she will be immediately removed," Mayorkas said. "Many individuals from Central America are found to be ineligible for these forms of protections and are, in fact, promptly removed."
The move comes as House Speaker John Boehner on Friday asked the administration to deploy National Guard troops to the border.
There is precedent for that. Four years ago the administration authorized 1,200 soldiers to be placed in Arizona alone, albeit in support roles versus actually patrolling the border.
Mayorkas said he is reviewing Boehner's request. But he suggested that putting Guard troops along the Southwest border does not exactly fit in with the administration's plan for dealing with the problem.
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