Federal authorities flew 400 suspected undocumented immigrants to Arizona and released them at bus stops, because detention facilities were full in Texas — where the suspects were picked up over the past few days — after a surge in migrants, U.S. officials said.
Over the past month, detention facilities in Texas overflowed for the first time as a large influx of Central Americans crossed the border into the Rio Grande Valley, said Andy Adame, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson, Arizona.
“We have enough manpower. It’s due to detention space,” Adame said Thursday, explaining why the immigrants, mostly families with young children, were sent to Arizona.
Many Republicans in Congress and some state lawmakers say the federal government is not doing enough to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, while a number of groups push for policy reform to allow the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to obtain a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Many people who cross the border illegally from Mexico are quickly returned by the U.S. Border Patrol, but those from Central America and other regions are supposed to be transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) so they can be flown home.
The 400 migrants who crossed into Texas were transferred into the custody of ICE and released, dropped off at bus stops in Tucson and Phoenix, ICE said.
It said the migrants will be required to report within 15 days to an agency office near where they were dropped off, and their cases will then be handled based on immigration enforcement priorities.
Federal officials under President Barack Obama have focused their immigration enforcement priorities on turning back unauthorized immigrants stopped in border regions and deporting others outside of those areas who are convicted of crimes.
On Tuesday, Obama asked his administration to hold off on making changes to deportation policy until the end of the summer in order to allow Congress time to pass immigration legislation.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which calls for restrictions on immigration, said the migrants released in Arizona would likely slip away and be able to avoid deportation if they do not commit any crime.
"Essentially, they have gotten successfully into the country, and it's unlikely that they're going to leave,” Mehlman said.