Border Patrol stations like the ones in Brownsville and Nogales, both in Arizona, were not meant for long-term custody. Immigrants are supposed to wait there until they are processed and taken to detention centers, but the surge in children arriving without their parents has overwhelmed the U.S. government.
SAN DIEGO (AP) – The Border Patrol on Sunday canceled flights scheduled to bring nearly 300 Central American migrants from south Texas to California for processing, but the plans could be reinstated, an official said.
It was unclear why Monday's flights for San Diego and El Centro, about 100 miles of east of San Diego, were shelved, said Ralph DeSio, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol's parent agency.
"This whole thing is in a very fluid state," DeSio said. "I'm not sure if the plans will be reactivated but, as we're speaking here this moment, it has been canceled. Tomorrow is another day."
Paul Beeson, chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector, told The Associated Press on Saturday that there would be two flights with 140 passengers each. They were expected to continue every three days, carrying mostly families with children and some adults.
DeSio said those statements were accurate at the time.
The government has been struggling to cope with a surge of Central Americans entering Texas' Rio Grande Valley, where the Border Patrol has made more than 174,000 arrests since Oct. 1. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decides whether families with young children and adults remain in custody or are released while they are in deportation proceedings.
U.S. border authorities have detained more than 39,000 adults with young children from October through May. Some have been released, but the Department of Homeland Security has refused to say how many and whether they failed to appear in immigration court.
The government has been actively looking for additional detention space — primarily for mothers with young children. ICE has only one detention center designed for families, an 85-bed facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania, that was once a nursing home.
The government is planning a 700-bed center in Artesia, New Mexico, that U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce told the Roswell Daily Record would be only for families. Pearce, a New Mexico Republican, told the newspaper Friday that the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia could house families but was not equipped to accommodate unaccompanied children.
The Border Patrol flew a large number of families from Texas to Tucson, Arizona, over Memorial Day weekend, drawing criticism from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer when ICE later dropped them off at Greyhound bus stations there.
Gabe Pacheco, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, which represents agents in San Diego, said he believed the California flights would have occurred if they hadn't been announced.
"It's just a matter of time. They'll do it when no one's paying attention," he said.