updated 3/14/2006 6:22:11 PM ET 2006-03-14T23:22:11

China is refusing to take back an estimated 39,000 citizens that have been denied immigration to the United States, clogging detention centers on the taxpayer’s bill, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Chertoff said that China last year readmitted 800 Chinese nationals. But that made only a small dent in what he described as a backlog of thousands of Chinese who are being held by the U.S.

“The math is pretty easy—at that rate, we wind up with increasing numbers of migrants who, if we’re going to detain them, we’re going to have to house at enormous expense,” Chertoff said.

He added: “We can’t be in the position any longer where we are paying the burden and bearing the burden for countries that won’t cooperate with us and take their own citizens back.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a call for comment. Costs to the U.S. of detaining Chinese citizens were not immediately available.

Chertoff also said Homeland Security would open detention facilities in the next few weeks to house entire families of illegal immigrants who hope to bring their children along in order to avoid jail time. “It’ll be humane, but we’re not going to let people get away with this,” he said.

Chertoff’s remarks comes as the Homeland Security Department aims to end its so-called “catch and release” immigration policy by Oct. 1. After that date, all illegal immigrants will be held in U.S. detention centers until they can be returned to their nation of citizenry.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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