Hundreds of families caught illegally crossing the border in Texas will be flown to Border Patrol stations in Southern California in the coming days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
Adults with children being held in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas will be moved to Border Patrol stations in the Imperial Valley and the San Diego area, officials announced late Friday.
Border Patrol operations in Texas are overwhelmed by a crush of children from Central America coming across the border. Many are traveling with a single parent, but the vast majority have crossed alone and surrendered to Border Patrol agents, hoping to be eventually united with relatives in the U.S.
An estimated 52,000 unaccompanied youths from Central America have been caught along the Southwest's border with Mexico since October, almost double last year's total. Of that, more than two-thirds made the crossing into the Rio Grande Valley.
Moving families to areas of Southern California that are not seeing the same spike in crossings could help process cases more quickly.
"The movement will allow the U.S. Border Patrol in less congested areas to assist in processing family units from South Texas where we are seeing an influx of migrants crossing the border," Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement.
The first group of families was initially expected to arrive in Southern California on Monday, but the flights were canceled after lawmakers raised objections and Border Patrol officials struggled to find appropriate locations to house parents and children together. Families will also be transferred within Texas to Laredo and El Paso.
Border Patrol agents in the San Diego and El Centro sectors will conduct initial interviews with the families before handing them to officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, Friel said.
Then, immigration officers will determine which families must be immediately expelled from the country and which families have legitimate claims for protection and asylum in the United States.
Most of the families being transferred come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The Border Patrol's El Centro sector has stations in El Centro, Calexico, Indio and Riverside. The San Diego sector has stations in San Diego, Imperial Beach, Pine Valley, San Clemente, El Cajon, Murrieta and Boulevard.
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) demanded the Obama administration immediately stop the plan to bring the families into California.
"Instead of solving the immigration problems along our border in Texas, President Obama has decided to spread that problem into communities in my congressional district and throughout Southern California," Calvert said in a statement. Calvert said that the Obama administration has not told Southern California communities exactly when the transfers would occur or where the families would be held.
"That lack of coordination and basic management is what compounds the frustration of so many of the people in our community that I have spoken with in the past few days," Calvert said. "I will continue to demand that the Obama administration stop this plan immediately and to fix the problem at the border instead of merely shifting it around to neighborhoods around the country."