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Pressure mounts against child immigrant detention

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By ASTRID GALVAN
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The Obama administration came under increasing pressure Thursday from Arizona politicians over its immigration policies as hundreds of immigrant children caught crossing the border illegally are being sent to the state at a converted warehouse in Nogales.

Attorney General Tom Horne threatened legal action Thursday against the government. Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake demanded that Customs and Border Protection allow reporters into the Nogales facility. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has also been highly critical of the policy and demanded that the government stop sending children to the state.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske addressed some of the criticism at a news conference in Washington, saying children are being treated humanely and that there is no free pass for young children or anyone else caught trying to cross the border.

"I have been watching them (Border Patrol agents) do absolutely heroic efforts," Kerlikowske said. "Not only rescuing children but taking care of them, way beyond some of the skill sets. They are doing everything from making formula to brining in their own children's clothing to taking care of these kids in a multitude of ways."

In a letter to Johnson, Horne demanded the agency immediately stop transferring adult migrants and families from Texas to Arizona. He also asked for the Department of Homeland Security to provide the total number of immigrants sent to Arizona and what steps border agents took to ensure they were healthy and lacking a criminal record.

The U.S. has seen a huge surge in immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador crossing the border into Texas, driven in part by violence in their homeland.

More than 47,000 mostly Central American unaccompanied children have been caught illegally crossing the Mexican border into Texas since October. That's left border agents in Texas overwhelmed and unable to process so many children. Within the last week, more than 1,000 of them have been transferred to a warehouse in Nogales, where they are being processed before being sent to shelters in various states and then reunited with family members.

Border Patrol also came under fire last month after dropping off hundreds of women and children who were caught crossing the border illegally into Texas at Tucson and Phoenix Greyhound stations. They are then told to report to immigration authorities within two weeks.

Horne wants to know how immigration officials are keeping track of the women and children who were released at Greyhound stations in Tucson and Phoenix during the last week of May.

"Not only were these inadvisable and irresponsible actions done without notifying Arizona officials, but DHS has yet to explain why it is apprehending aliens in Texas, moving them some 1200 miles and simply releasing them in our state," Horne said while "demanding that it immediately stops."

Media agencies have been denied access to the facility, but border agents have let in lawmakers, religious groups, activists and politicians.

Many of them have provided accounts of what they saw.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada says he was surprised at how well-run the facility was.

"They're well-taken care of. It's incredible the job they've done in such a short time that they have had with this situation," Estrada said.

The Rev. Sean Carroll, who heads the humanitarian organization Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, toured the facility on Wednesday.

"Physically, most looked like they were in good condition, adequately clothed and were having their basic needs met. At the same time, we were not allowed to speak with them, so it was difficult to assess how they were doing psychologically and spiritually," Carroll wrote in a summary of his visit.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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