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Illegal border crossings swell, prompt ‘surge operations’ in Texas

Published time: June 20, 2014 02:40
A Border Patrol agent searches an undocumented immigrant apprehended near the Mexican border (Scott Olson / Getty Images / AFP)

A Border Patrol agent searches an undocumented immigrant apprehended near the Mexican border (Scott Olson / Getty Images / AFP)

Texas officials have authorized emergency “surge operations” along the Mexico border to deal with a spike in illegal border crossings, a sizable portion of which are women and children fleeing violence in Central America.

According to Joe Straus, the Republican Texas House Speaker, the state’s Border Patrol reported 160,000 individuals were caught illegally crossing into the state through the Rio Grande Valley through the first eight months of the fiscal year, that number representing the entire total of individuals caught last year.

Though illegal immigration into the US has been a longstanding issue, of particular concern in recent months has been the number of children coming across into the US. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which takes responsibility for the unsupervised children arrivals, has seen an increase from 13,625 cases in fiscal year 2012 to 24,668 last fiscal year, as reported by USA Today.

The influx of children are predominantly from Central America, from such countries as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The matter has become serious enough that on Thursday, President Obama met with his Mexican counterpart to discuss how the two countries can collaborate to stem the influx of minors into the US. Vice President Joe Biden is also scheduled to meet with Guatemalan President Otto Perez and other Central American officials to discuss the topic.

Unlike the traditional influx of undocumented immigrants into the US through the Mexico border, however, the more recent arrivals often wait to be apprehended by Border Patrol.

“We're seeing record numbers of children coming across," said Chris Cabrera, vice president of the local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council.

"We're dealing with so many of them turning themselves in that it makes it hard for our agents to focus on anything else."

While the federal government attempts to tackle the issue, the state of Texas has decided to take its own steps in dealing with the influx. State leaders have now authorized an additional $1.3 million per week towards the Department of Public Safety, with periodic reports on the impact of the additional surge in funding to the state legislature.

“Texas can't afford to wait for Washington to act on this crisis, and we will not sit idly by while the safety and security of our citizens are threatened,” Gov. Rick Perry said on Thursday.

“Until the federal government recognizes the danger it’s putting our citizens in by its inaction to secure the border, Texas law enforcement must do everything they can to keep our citizens and communities safe.”

The surge in undocumented border crossings has quickly become a hot political issue in Texas, with lawmakers jockeying to broach the topic, and often for increased funding from the federal government. Last week, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican currently campaigning for governor, requested an additional $30 million in federal funding from Homeland Security to deal with the issue. Abbott immediately released a statement on Thursday praising the Texas legislature’s surge authorization.

In May, after detention facilities in Texas surpassed capacity, federal authorities flew 400 suspected undocumented immigrants to Arizona and released them at bus stops.

“We have enough manpower. It’s due to detention space,” said Andy Adame, a US Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson, Arizona.

As agencies struggle to deal with a swelling number of undocumented immigrants, conditions at crowded housing facilities have deteriorated.

Administration officials cited by Reuters recently announced that a third facility would be located at an Army base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to initially house 600 children before increasing capacity to 1,200. Over the last few weeks, similar housing facilities have been created in California and Texas.

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