SAN DIEGO U.S. Border Patrol officials in Southern California are sending agents and other resources to Texas to help stretched colleagues in the Rio Grande deal with a surge of immigrants illegally crossing the frontier, two Border Patrol union officials said on Friday.
Officials are trying to handle an influx of new arrivals, many of them unaccompanied children and teens from Central America, that has crowded facilities in Texas and led to efforts to move some to other states.
"U.S. Border Patrol San Diego Sector is sending Mobile Response Team trained agents from San Diego to enhance processing and detention capabilities in the Rio Grande Valley," said Gabe Pacheco, spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, which covers San Diego.
He said in a statement that additional resources would be deployed immediately to South Texas "to facilitate increased effectiveness."
Lombardo Amaya, president of the union's chapter in neighboring El Centro, also in Southern California, said it too was sending patrol agents and vehicles to the Rio Grande.
He said 20 to 30 agents would be sent for up to 45 days, and that they would be working long shifts six days a week.
"Among them are trained EMTs (emergency medical technicians,) first responders and search and rescue people," he said. "There are about 5,000 people waiting to be processed in Texas now."
SURGE OF NEW ARRIVALS
More than 47,000 unaccompanied minors are thought to have entered the United States illegally between October and May, nearly twice as many as the previous year, many of them fleeing poverty and gang violence in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras. President Barack Obama has called the flood of illegal immigrant children an urgent humanitarian crisis but has also warned parents not to send their children on the long journey, saying they would be sent back.
Plans to begin flying the immigrants to California from Texas for processing were abruptly called off last weekend without public explanation. Border Patrol union officials said that was due to public pressure.
On Friday, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said it was making further arrangements to transport adults with children from the Rio Grande Valley to the Laredo and El Paso areas of Texas and to Southern California.
"The movement will allow the U.S. Border Patrol in less congested areas to assist in processing family units from South Texas," it said in a statement.
After processing, it said, family groups will be handed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which will decide whether to keep them in custody on a case-by-case basis, "prioritizing national security and public safety."
The surge in new arrivals comes as a number of U.S. groups push for policy reform to let the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States obtain a pathway to citizenship. Many Republicans say the Obama administration is not doing enough to secure the southern border.
(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Dan Grebler and Sandra Maler)