ARTESISA, N.M. – Congressman Steve Pearce said Friday that a new detention facility planned for New Mexico would only be for immigrant families, not unaccompanied minors.
The Republican told the Roswell Daily Records that an area of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia could house families. But the facility was not equipped to handle parentless children.
"We don't have the day care facilities we need to take care of children there," Pearce said.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Friday that the 700-bed family detention facility would likely be the first of several new facilities that will be open to house immigrants caught crossing the border illegally. A surge of immigrants from Central America have been apprehended crossing the border in recent weeks.
That news was followed on Saturday by a Border Patrol official in San Diego's announcement that the agency is considering flying 140 immigrants to his area as early as Tuesday.
Sector chief Paul Beeson said they'll be turned over to immigration officials, who'll decide if they should be held or released while their cases are pending. The transfers will involve families and adults but no unescorted children, Beeson said.
In New Mexico, Jill McLaughlin, Pearce's spokeswoman, said he and his staff have been in discussions with Homeland Security as well as the Artesia mayor's office.
According to Pearce, border patrol stations continue to be overwhelmed by the number of immigrants.
"There has been a flood of people at the border, and they are holding them at the border in border patrol stations," Pearce said. "But they aren't able to get any work done, so the government is looking for places to put them."
The Artesia training center is home to the Border Patrol's training academy, which includes dormitories. But the dorms would remain separate from where families would stay, Pearce said.
Pearce said he believes the facility in Artesia could be a temporary stop before deportation. "But as you know, government intentions don't always come out the way they intend," he said.
Federal officials so far have not said when the facility would open, but they indicated that it would be relatively soon.
The Obama administration has been actively looking for additional space to house immigrant families, primarily mothers with young children, caught crossing the Mexican border illegally, Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday. He did not say how many people the new family detention centers would house or where others would be located.
The government operates only one such facility, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, with space for fewer than 100 people.
The administration will also send more immigration judges, ICE attorneys and other immigration officials to the region to help process immigrants caught crossing the border illegally and, when possible, quickly return them to their home countries, Mayorkas said.
Immigrants crossing the border illegally have overwhelmed U.S. immigration agencies. More than 174,000 people, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been arrested in Texas' Rio Grande Valley this year.