WASHINGTON—China is refusing to take back an estimated 39,000 citizens who have been denied immigration to the United States and have clogged detention centers at federal expense, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Chertoff said that China last year readmitted 800 people. But that made only a small dent in what he described as a backlog of thousands illegally in the U.S.
“The math is pretty easy—at that rate, we wind up with increasing numbers of migrants who, if we’re going to detain them, we’re going to have to house at enormous expense,” Chertoff said.
He added: “We can’t be in the position any longer where we are paying the burden and bearing the burden for countries that won’t cooperate with us and take their own citizens back.”
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a call for comment.
Currently, 687 Chinese are being held in federal detention facilities, at a daily rate of $95 each, while some 38,000 have been released on bond or under a monitoring program, such as wearing an electronic surveillance bracelet, the Homeland Security Department said later Tuesday.
Illegal immigrants can be held for 180 days before they are released.