Record Immigrant Numbers Force Homeland Security to Search for New Jail Space

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U.S. officials expect number of undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation to reach 45,000 in the coming months. Homeland Security officials are quietly scrambling to find 5,000 more prison and jail beds to handle a record number of undocumented immigrants being detained in the U.S., according to officials familiar with the discussions.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson met Tuesday with senior leaders at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Customs and Border Protection agency—both of which are in his department—so officials could review their plans to handle thousands more people expected to cross the southwest border with Mexico in coming weeks, the officials said.

ICE is currently holding more than 40,000 people in detention centers—more than it has ever had in custody before—and has warned budget officials that it needs a quick infusion of $136 million more just to keep running detention centers until early December, according to internal Department of Homeland Security documents and officials.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on internal agency discussions. The agency is “committed to continuing to ensure that individuals are detained in a safe, secure and humane manner in line with our detention standards and our values as a nation,” she said.

The department had previously insisted that ICE is managing its operations at current levels, despite what she called “an uptick” in detentions.

But the problem is going to get worse before it gets better, officials told Mr. Johnson Tuesday. Part of the surge is due to thousands of Haitians who left their country after it was stricken by a severe earthquake in 2010, fleeing to South America and taking several years to make it to the U.S. southern border, officials say. The influx in detained immigrants is not limited to Haitians, but they are a big part of it.

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