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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Authorities flew 400 people suspected of entering the United States illegally to Arizona over the weekend and released them at bus stops because detention facilities were full after a surge in migrants, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
Over the past month, detention facilities in Texas overflowed with migrants for the first time as a large influx of Central Americans crossed the border into the Rio Grande Valley, said Andy Adame, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson, Arizona.
“We have enough manpower, it’s due to detention space,” Adame said in explaining why the immigrants, mostly families with young children, were sent to Arizona.
Many Republicans in Congress and some state lawmakers say the federal government is not doing enough to secure the U.S. southern border, while a number of groups push for policy reform to allow the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to obtain a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Many people who cross the border illegally from Mexico are quickly returned by the U.S. Border Patrol, but those from Central America and other regions are supposed to be transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) so they can be flown home.
The 400 migrants who crossed into Texas were transferred into the custody of ICE and released, dropped off at bus stops in Tucson and Phoenix, according to that agency.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the migrants will be required to report within 15 days to an agency office near where they were dropped off, and their cases will then be handled based on immigration enforcement priorities.
Federal officials under President Barack Obama have focused their immigration enforcement priorities on turning back unauthorized immigrants stopped in border regions and deporting others outside of those areas who are convicted of crimes.
On Tuesday, Obama asked his administration to hold off on making changes to deportation policy until the end of the summer in order to allow Congress time to pass immigration legislation.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which calls for restrictions on immigration, said the released migrants will likely slip away and avoid deportation if they do not commit any crime.
"Essentially, they have gotten successfully into the country and it's unlikely that they're going to leave,” Mehlman said.
Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool