SAN DIEGO (AP) — The Border Patrol will fly nearly 300 Central American migrants from south Texas to California for processing, an official said Saturday, as the government seeks to ease the workload on agents at the nation's busiest corridor for illegal crossings.
There will be two flights Monday with 140 passengers each — one bound for San Diego and one for El Centro, about 100 miles east of San Diego, said Paul Beeson, chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector.
The two flights were expected to continue every three days, Beeson told The Associated Press, but it's unclear for how long. They will be mostly for families with young children but also carry adults. There will be no unaccompanied children.
The flights to California are the government's latest response to a surge of Central Americans entering Texas' Rio Grande Valley, where the Border Patrol has made more than 174,000 arrests since Oct. 1. Most are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will decide whether the Central Americans remain in custody or are released while they are in deportation proceedings. ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack declined to comment on how the agency will respond.
The government has been actively looking for additional detention space — primarily for mothers with young children — since large numbers of Central Americans have overwhelmed U.S. authorities in south Texas. 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, N.M., 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.
Beeson said Central Americans flown to San Diego will likely be processed at a station in Murrieta in south Riverside County. He didn't know if flights were planned from south Texas to destinations outside California, and the Border Patrol's parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
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.
U.S. border authorities have detained more than 39,000 adults with young children from October through May. A number have been released but the Department of Homeland Security has refused to say how many and whether they failed to appear in immigration court.
Associated Press writer Amy Taxin in Santa Ana, California, contributed to this report.