US Releases Immigrant Families, Won’t Say How Many

Alicia A. Caldwell, Yahoo! News, June 23, 2014

The Obama administration has released into the U.S. an untold number of immigrant families caught traveling illegally from Central America in recent months–and although the government knows how many it’s released, it won’t say publicly.

Senior U.S. officials directly familiar with the issue, including at the Homeland Security Department and White House, have so far dodged the answer on at least seven occasions over two weeks, alternately saying that they did not know the figure or didn’t have it immediately at hand. “We will get back to you,” the Homeland Security deputy secretary said Friday.

The figure is widely believed to exceed 40,000 since October. It’s believed to be slightly below the roughly 52,000 children caught traveling illegally from Central America over the same period, an extraordinary increase since last year that is driving a humanitarian crisis at the border.

Despite promises to the contrary, this is how it looks when the image-conscious Obama administration doesn’t want to reveal politically sensitive information that could influence an important policy debate. The mystery figure is significant because the number of families caught crossing from Central America represents a large share of new immigration cases that will further strain the overwhelmed U.S. immigration courts system. It also affects federal enforcement strategy, such as where to deploy the border patrol, and political calculations about whether Congress or the White House will relax American immigration laws or regulations before upcoming congressional elections in November.

{snip}┬áDespite promises for better transparency on immigration issues, the administration has been unwilling to say how many immigrant families it’s released–hundreds or thousands–or how many of those subsequently reported back to the government after 15 days as directed.

The government has limited options for detaining families caught crossing the border illegally, usually mothers with children. It has space for fewer than 100 family members at its only detention center for them, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The administration announced Friday that it will open new detention facilities for immigrant families, including a 700-bed facility at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, which is home to the Border Patrol’s training academy. It didn’t say when that new immigration jail would open or how many others it will build.

The administration did not immediately respond Monday to renewed questions about why it won’t reveal the figure.

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