Tom Horne

Attorney General Tom Horne. [Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services]

Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services

Saying the busing is illegal, state Attorney General Tom Horne on Thursday threatened to sue federal officials for dropping off undocumented individuals in Tucson and Phoenix who were apprehended in Texas.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Horne said he can find no legal authority “for such arbitrary and injurious actions.” In fact, Horne said there is no authorization for federal officials to transporting those not in the country legally for any purpose other than to federal detention facilities.

Beyond that, Horne contends that moving the undocumented individuals from Texas to Arizona violates another federal law which requires Johnson's agency “to control and guard the boundaries and borders of the United States against the illegal entry of aliens.”

“Instead of doing that, they're facilitating (illegal immigration) by bringing them to other states,” he told Capitol Media Services. He said it puts federal officials “in the business of picking up illegals who make it across the border and distributing them to other states, which is normally the job of the coyotes.”

Legal threats aside, Horne also asked Johnson for a tally of how many people have been left at bus stations since Customs and Border Protection began dropping families there more than a month ago. He is asking what the agency has done to ensure these people had sufficient financial means to avoid being exploited “or the need for intervention by Arizona public officials in order to protect their safety and welfare.”

Peter Boogaard, Johnson's press secretary, said his agency will respond directly to Horne. But Boogaard did not answer repeated questions of why those detained in Texas, released to travel on after being processed, were first bused to Arizona.

Separately Thursday, Johnson detailed for the media what his agency is doing about the separate but related problem of the flood of unaccompanied minors who also have been picked up crossing the border illegally into Texas. Johnson insisted that his agency is doing what it can, as quickly as possible to process the children and turn them over to the Department of Health and Human Services which he said provides a “safe and secure environment.”

He did not specifically address allegations made Wednesday by immigrant rights groups that there is “systemic abuse” of children who come into the custody of Customs and Border Protection. But, in a warning to parents not to send their unaccompanied children to the United States, he said that a processing center for those who enter the country illegally “is no place for children.”

CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske, speaking at the same press conference, did promise that the more than 100 specific instances cited in the complaint will be investigated. But he also took the opportunity to praise his Border Patrol agents.

“I have watched them do absolutely heroic efforts, not only rescuing children but taking care of them way beyond some of the skill sets,” Kerlikowske said. “They are doing everything from mixing formula to bringing in their own children's clothing to taking care of these kids in a multitude of ways.”

Johnson said federal policy on unaccompanied minors is to try to find parents, other relatives or friends acceptable to the family who are in this country.

He also said the fact they are being given food and housing — and eventually being released and not immediately being sent back — is becoming widely known. But he denied any of this is providing an incentive for children to cross the border.

Johnson noted that anyone who arrives now is ineligible to remain legally under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and he said congressional legislation to grant some sort of amnesty requires the person to be here before Jan. 1, 2012.

“Yes, we provide a number of things for children when we find them, because the law requires it and our values require it,” Johnson said. But he said none of that trumps the risk.

“To put a child into the hands of a criminal smuggling organization is not safe,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jan Brewer used the situation for political advantage, sending out an email Thursday asking recipients not only to sign a petition to the president saying they are “disturbed and outraged” over immigrants being bused to Arizona but also to give money to Jan PAC, her federal political action committee which paid for the message.

Brewer did not respond to a request to speak with her about her fundraising.

If Horne sues, this won't be the first time.

In 2011 he asked U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to rule the agency is not living up to its obligation to secure the border, but Bolton threw out the case, saying Arizona has no right to make such a legal demand.

Horne said that loss is different because it was based on a claim of the agency ignoring its duty.

“But affirmatively aiding them in making it from the border to inland areas and blending into the population, that's a commission, not just an omission,” Horne said.

He also conceded that a separate law he cited — making it a federal offense to transport someone who the offender knows is in the country illegally — applies not to federal agents but only to individuals.

“But it just indicates there's a policy against,” Horne said. And he said there's also nothing in federal law authorizing federal agents to transport people to another state before releasing them.

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