PHOENIX — Flooded with a wave of illegal immigrants from Central America, the Obama administration announced Friday that it will open new facilities to house families caught crossing the border.
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, where they can simply be sent back across the border — 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 apprehended in Texas, where there has been a surge of illegal immigrants, 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.
The first will be at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Artesia, New Mexico, which can hold 700 adults and children.
But this is being touted as a temporary facility. And Mayorkas said no decision has been made on 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.”
Gov. Jan Brewer, speaking to reporters Friday at the Arizona-Mexico Commission, said the decision by federal officials to take families into custody in Texas, transport them to Arizona and then release them here was “deplorable; it was inhumane.” But she said there’s a simple solution to the whole problem.
“We need our borders secured,” she said. “We won’t have to be faced with it again.”
Brewer also said that she agrees with the call earlier Friday by House Speaker John Boehner for the White House to deploy the National Guard. She said that puts the responsibility where it belongs: on the federal government and not the states.
There is precedent for that. Four years ago, the administration authorized 1,200 guardsmen to be deployed, albeit in support roles versus actually patrolling the border.
Mayorkas said he is reviewing Boehner’s request. But he suggested that putting National Guard troops along the Southwestern border does not exactly fit in with the administration’s plan for dealing with the problem.
He said the idea is to “make the process more efficient” while addressing the claims of those who are seeking asylum and removing those “who are not claiming credible fear.”
“So that is not a process in which the National Guard is involved,’ Mayorkas said.
Brewer also said she does not intend to follow the lead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who plans to use his state police to enhance border security.
“In Arizona, we have no money,” she said, pointing to the $1.3 million-a-week cost of what Perry intends to do. Anyway, the governor said, it’s not like it would do any good.
She pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected efforts by Arizona to enact and enforce its own immigration laws. Brewer said that means any undocumented individuals caught by Arizona law enforcement would have to be turned over to ICE, which, in turn, might simply release them after processing, as is happening now with families.
Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padres, also at the Arizona-Mexico Commission meeting, acknowledged that the Central Americans are passing through his country and sometimes his state. But Padres said that does not make the situation his problem — or his responsibility.
“People from other countries, Central America, going through Sonora is no crime,” he said. “They’re not breaking any laws.”
While trying to deal with the influx into the United States, the Obama administration is also making efforts to stop the flow at the source, even sending Vice President Joe Biden to Guatemala, one of the main sources of families and unaccompanied children who have flooded across the border into Texas.
Cecilia Munoz, an assistant to President Obama and director of the Domestic Policy Council, said part of the reason for that trip is to “deal with misinformation that is being deliberately planned by criminal organizations, by smuggling networks, about what people can expect if they come to the United States.” She said Biden wants to make it clear that those who arrive now are ineligible for any existing or anticipated program that will allow them to stay.
But the administration also is hoping to use money to stem the flow at its source, including:
- $40 million to improve citizen security in Guatemala, working to reduce youth involvement with gangs and address factors that cause them to leave.
- $25 million for new youth outreach centers to serve young people susceptible to gang recruitment and migration.
- $18.5 million to support community policing and law enforcement to confront gangs and other sources of crime.
There also is another $97 million toward overall security programs, plus $9.6 million to help deal with citizens who are sent home.
Richard Zuniga, a senior official at the National Security Council, also said that Obama had called Enrique Peña Nieto, his Mexican counterpart, “to discuss our shared responsibility in dealing with this matter.”