SAN DIEGO — The United States Customs and Border Protection on Friday flew hundreds of people who entered the country illegally in Texas to San Diego.
The Rio Grande Valley is overwhelmed with the people who have crossed illegally into Texas and as a way to bring relief to that area, some of the people were taken to Del Rio, Texas.
The U.S. Border Patrol is now expanding their program and flying between 120 and 135 non-criminal family units who entered the U.S. illegally to San Diego three times a week. The first flight arrived Tuesday, May 14 and a second flight will arrive Friday, May 17.
Flights from Texas' Rio Grande Valley to San Diego began Friday and continue indefinitely three times a week, with each flight carrying 120 to 135 people, said Douglas Harrison, the Border Patrol's interim San Diego sector chief.
Agents in the Rio Grande Valley will collect biographical information and do a medical screening before sending migrants to San Diego on flights contracted by ICE, Harrison said. Migrants will go from San Diego International Airport to a Border Patrol station, where they will be fingerprinted, interviewed and screened again for medical problems. Processing at the station typically takes hours.
ICE will decide whether to release or detain the families in San Diego. Its practice since October has been to quickly release families in the U.S. with notices to appear in immigration court.
The flights could further strain the San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of religious and civic groups that has provided temporary shelter to asylum-seeking families since large-scale releases began in October. San Diego County has sued the Trump administration to recover costs.
Short flights cost the federal government about $6,000 each, officials said. It wasn't immediately clear how much longer flights cost.
Border Patrol agents do some processing remotely by videoconference, but Harrison said stations in the Rio Grande Valley had run out of room even to do that. San Diego, he said, had room to hold migrants for up to 72 hours and staff to process them, which stations on the northern border lack.
Border arrests have surged since the summer to 98,977 in April, nearly three times what they were a year earlier. Nearly seven of every 10 came as families or were children traveling alone. The Rio Grande Valley was by far the busiest corridor, followed by El Paso, Texas.
The Border Patrol says it is detaining about 8,000 people at a time in the Rio Grande Valley, double its maximum capacity even with a 500-person tent it opened earlier this month.
The agency said Friday it would open four new temporary structures in the Rio Grande Valley. It released photos showing people lying on grass or pavement outside two of its stations with Mylar sheets for blankets. The structures will have generators, lighting and air conditioning.
The Border Patrol is currently determining the potential of expanding this program to Detroit, Buffalo and Miami.
Statement from Interim Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison - U.S. Border Patrol Sector San Diego:
"This is a contingency operation. We've got to give Rio Grande Valley some relief ... our intent is to move them through this process as quickly and fairly as possible."
Statement from Nathan Fletcher, Supervisor, District 4, County of San Diego:
"My office has coordinated with our Health and Human Services Agency and The Rapid Response Network; we are ready to do everything we can to help families being flown to San Diego.
Donald Trump has manufactured this immigration crisis to drive his political agenda. His inability to lead has put undue burden on local communities. We stand ready to help immigrants and protect the public’s health."
Congressman Scott Peters released the following statement:
"Our staff was notified by the Mayor's office last night that this was to be expected, and received direct word from the Department of Homeland Security via email earlier today. When DHS began dropping asylum seekers crossing the San Diego Mexico border on our streets, local non-profits and local governments stepped in heroically to provide food, shelter and care and to help get these people to their host families in other parts of the country. At the time, DHS stated they were forced to do this because they did not have the funds to transport migrants to their long-term destinations. But now they somehow have the funds to fly hundreds of people all over the country? This is contradictory. If they are going to pay for air travel, how about we transport asylum seekers to where they have a family waiting to house and support them? This disorder further underscores the need for real, comprehensive immigration reform, something this President refuses to get serious about."
California Senator Diane Feinstein released the following statement:
"This is the latest example of the Trump administration's failure to properly manage the border and humanely process migrants arriving to the United States. If the Trump administration is going to fly large numbers of migrants from one part of the southern border to another, then it should have a plan and work with the local community to ensure the appropriate resources are in place."