SAN DIEGO - The U.S. Border Patrol said Thursday it has stopped transporting Central American children and families to San Diego after they are arrested in South Texas, halting the short-lived experiment that sparked a backlash in one city when protesters blocked a road and forced the rerouting of busloads of immigrants.
The Border Patrol has reduced its backlog of families being held in Texas' Rio Grande Valley and has improved processing there, agency spokesman Paul Carr said.
He denied that protests earlier this month outside the Border Patrol station in Murrieta, California, influenced the decision.
The government chartered three flights to San Diego since July 1, with each carrying about 140 Central American adults and their young children. They had been scheduled to arrive every three days until a flight set for Thursday was scrapped.
Flights to San Diego may resume but there are no plans to do so, Carr said.
"There is no turn-on date," he said.
The flights have been a rallying cry for anti-illegal immigration activists because families are typically released as they await hearings in immigration court.
Before the latest surge of Central Americans to this country, there was only one family detention center in the county, designed for 85 people in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Last month, the government opened a center in Artesia, New Mexico, designed to hold as many as 700 people.
The Border Patrol flew a large number of families from Texas to Tucson, Arizona, in late May, drawing criticism from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer when U.S immigration and Customs and Enforcement dropped them off at bus stations. ICE takes custody of the families after they are processed by the Border Patrol.
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for ICE in San Diego, declined to say how many families were released after being flown to San Diego.
Flights also began last week from Texas, to Yuma, Arizona, with immigrants then bused to El Centro,
California, for processing.
Jackie Wasiluk, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol's parent agency, declined to comment on the status of any flights due to security considerations.
"Our foremost priority is the safety of the (Department of Homeland Security) personnel who are conducting these transfers and the welfare of those who have been entrusted to their custody," Wasiluk said.