June 8 (UPI) — U.S. immigration officials said they will temporarily transfer 1,600 detained migrants to federal prisons in multiple states due to a “surge” in border crossings.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement will send 1,000 immigrants to a prison in Victorville, Calif., and the others to facilities in Seattle; Phoenix; La Tuna, Texas; and Sheridan, Ore. Among them are refugees seeking asylum.
ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said the move is a temporary measure to deal with a “current surge in illegal border crossings” and the Trump administration’s push for a “zero-tolerance policy” on undocumented immigration.
“The use of [Bureau of Prisons] facilities is intended to be a temporary measure until ICE can obtain additional long-term contracts for new detention facilities or until the surge in illegal border crossings subsides,” she said in a statement emailed to UPI on Friday.
Since the beginning of the year, the Trump administration has pushed for a crackdown on undocumented immigration, citing a spike in border arrests. On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security released May’s figures, which showed 50,000 crossers were arrested — a nearly 160 percent increase over May 2017.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised 100 percent of immigrants who enter the United States unlawfully — including some seeking asylum — will be prosecuted. He took issue with immigrants bringing children across the border illegally, saying ICE will separate minors from their prosecution.
“We’re here to send a message to the world that we’re not going to let the country be overwhelmed; people are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border,” he said. “We need legality and integrity in our immigration systems.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
That crackdown means more beds are needed for undocumented immigrants awaiting court dates.
The Migration Policy Institute says overall, illegal border crossings have trended downward since 2000. In that year, 1.68 million people were apprehended, a number that was on a steady decline until 2017, when 310,000 were arrested.
Meanwhile, a greater percentage of illegal border crossings include unaccompanied minors and families, up from 10 percent in 2012 to more than 35 percent this year.
MPI said 2017 was an unusually low year for border apprehensions because of uncertainty after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
“Would-be migrants seemingly held back in wait-and-see mode, given the Trump campaign’s muscular focus on immigration enforcement,” the institute said. “What became dubbed the ‘Trump effect’ has predictably waned, however, given the deeper push-pull forces that propel illegal migration.
“This willful misreading of the trends at the border is belied by the most recent apprehension statistics, which call into question whether an expenditure of billions of dollars on barriers and more enforcement personnel would be an effective use of taxpayer resources.”