- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - A Guatemalan immigrant accused of killing his girlfriend in Louisiana illegally crossed the Mexican border with his children last month and was released from custody after being issued a notice to report back to immigration authorities once he got settled in the United States, the Homeland Security Department said Wednesday.

Pedro Alberto Monterroso Navas was caught crossing the border in South Texas on June 26 with his two children, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said. The trio was released after immigration authorities determined that Monterroso, 43, had no criminal history or gang affiliation, much like an undisclosed number of other recent border-crossers from Central America traveling as families.

Local authorities in suburban Houston arrested Monterroso on Monday, a day after police in Metairie, Louisiana, found Heidi Monroy, 24, bludgeoned to death in the bathtub of her apartment. Monterroso is jailed in Harris County, Texas, and faces charges related to Monroy’s death. Jail records do not indicate whether he has a lawyer.

Christensen said Border Patrol agents apprehended Monroy and her three children after they crossed the border illegally in May. Monroy, who was from Honduras, was also released and ordered to report back to immigration authorities.

More than 55,000 people traveling as families have been arrested at the border since October. The Obama administration has repeatedly refused to say how many of those immigrants have been released or how many have reported back as ordered.

Christensen said Monroy had complied with the order while Monterroso had not.

The Border Patrol and ICE, which is responsible for removing immigrants who are in the country illegally, have been overwhelmed by a flood of minors crossing the border without their parents and the tens of thousands of families caught at the border. More than 57,000 immigrant children have been apprehended in the past 8 months.

The flood of immigrants, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, has been described by the Obama administration and many lawmakers as a humanitarian crisis. Child immigrants are being housed in a variety of emergency shelters, including three military bases in California, Texas and Oklahoma, while authorities search for their parents or other relatives already living in the United States.

Last month Homeland Security opened a temporary family detention center at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico, that can house more than 700 people. Before that, DHS could only house 97 people at a single family detention center in Pennsylvania.

The crisis has prompted President Barack Obama to ask Congress to pass a $3.7 billion emergency spending bill to help deal with the influx of immigrants. Some of that money would be used to help speed up the process of returning immigrants to their home countries. Republicans lawmakers have balked at the request, saying it’s too high, while some Democrats have questioned whether the emergency spending bill would fully address the problem.

Earlier this week 40 immigrants being housed in the New Mexico family facility were flown back to Honduras.


Follow Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap

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