Officials Searching for Prison Beds to Cope with Immigration Surge

(ESPAÑOL) Homeland Security officials are quietly scrambling to find 5,000 more prison and jail beds to handle a record immigration surge.

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.

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.

More than 5,000 Haitians have now reached the Mexican towns of Tijuana and Mexicali and are preparing to present themselves at U.S. ports of entry, officials said. U.S. and Mexican officials have sought to avoid a crush at the San Ysidro border crossing in California by having the would-be entrants approach the border in a steady stream rather than all at once, officials said.

Homeland Security officials expect the overall number of individuals who are in jail awaiting deportation to balloon to 45,000 in the coming weeks and months. One internal projection calculates the figure could reach 47,000 by next June, according to people familiar with the discussions.

ICE is specifically working to buy jail space in Youngstown, Ohio; Cibola County, N.M.; Aurora, Colo.; and Robstown, Texas, officials said.