WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday it will open new detention facilities to house immigrant families caught crossing the border illegally, amid a surge from Central America.
The administration did not immediately say how many people the new family detention centers will house or where they will be located. The government currently operates only one such facility, in York County, Pennsylvania, with space for fewer than 100 people.
Tens of thousands of families, mostly mothers traveling with young children, have been apprehended at the border since the start of the budget year in October. The administration has released an unspecified number of them into the U.S. in recent months with instructions to report later to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices, but it won't say how many have been released or subsequently appeared as ordered.
Immigrants crossing the border illegally have overwhelmed U.S. immigration agencies. More than 174,000 people, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been arrested in Texas' Rio Grande Valley this year.
The spike in border crossers — southern Texas is now the busiest border crossing in the country — prompted the Homeland Security Department earlier this year to start sending families to other parts of Texas and Arizona for processing before releasing them at local bus stops.
Family detention has long been a contentious issue for Homeland Security. In 2009 the department was forced to shutter a large family detention center in Texas after legal challenges about the conditions of the facility. And in 2012, ICE abandoned plans to accept bids for a new family detention center in Texas amid complaints from advocates about the possibility of housing immigrant families in jails.
Also Friday, House Speaker John Boehner urged President Barack Obama to send National Guard troops to the southern border to help deal with the surge of children and other immigrants.
Former President George W. Bush deployed thousands of troops to the border during his second term to augment the Border Patrol as it bolstered its ranks. Since then, the agency has nearly doubled to more than 20,000 agents and the number of immigrants caught crossing the border illegally has declined overall.AP reporter Erica Werner contributed to this report.