Hundreds of unaccompanied children from Central America have entered the U.S. illegally in recent days, overwhelming American border authorities.
White House officials said Monday most of the children have crossed the Mexican border into the southwestern U.S. state of Texas, fleeing high crime and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
U.S. border officials in Texas have been ill-equipped to handle the influx and transported many of the children to facilities two states away, in Arizona. The officials said that even though the government has started deportation proceedings against the children to return them to their home countries, it also is looking for more space to house them while the specific details of their cases are considered.
By law, the U.S. has 72 hours to try to determine the personal circumstances of each of the children, such as whether they have parents already living in the U.S. and could be reunited. But the officials said the number of child immigrants has "very dramatically" increased in recent days, leading to delays in the processing.
Hundreds of the children have been kept in a makeshift dormitory: a U.S. immigration warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, just north of the Mexican border.
The White House officials said the children have been given food and water, and shower facilities.
President Barack Obama has called the plight of the children "an urgent humanitarian situation."
The influx of Central American children is occurring as the U.S. is in the midst of a contentious debate over immigration policies. Obama has called for comprehensive immigration policy changes that could eventually permit 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally to gain U.S. citizenship over a period of years.
But many of Obama's Republican opponents in Congress say that amounts to amnesty for lawbreakers; they have so far thwarted passage of immigration reforms.