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DHS requests room for up to 20,000 unaccompanied minors on military bases

U.S. Border Patrol agents conduct intake of people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the U.S.at the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018.

U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 21, 2018

WASHINGTON — Up to 20,000 migrant children could be housed on U.S. military bases under a plan being considered by President Donald Trump’s administration, according to U.S. officials. The children would be unaccompanied minors who cross the border without family members, not children separated from them.

The Department of Homeland Security requested the space to hold the children under 18 at military installations, two defense officials said Thursday on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing planning.

DHS is considering four military posts in Texas and Arkansas — Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas — to house the children. The officials said DHS completed a site inspection of Little Rock AFB on Thursday after previous visits to the other installations.

No decisions about which of the bases would be used to hold the unaccompanied minors had been made as of Thursday, officials said. Under the current plan, the military bases would not be used to house 2,500 migrant children who were separated from their families in recent weeks before Trump signed an executive order Wednesday halting that policy. Pentagon and DHS officials remain in discussion about the potential to house families detained at the border at those military sites.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Thursday said he had been advised of the plan, but questioned how DOD could hold 20,000 children.

“How will that work? Is it even feasible?” he asked on the Senate floor.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday dismissed concerns about holding children on military bases, confirming the Pentagon would provide the space DHS requested. He referred questions about the policy to DHS, telling reporters the Pentagon has supported such programs in the past.

“We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes,” he said. “We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.”

The military has hosted unaccompanied migrant minors in the past. In 2014, HHS used space at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to house thousands of unaccompanied children. The officials said any use of military facilities would be similar to that.

Mattis has said that DHS would only use space on installations that is not needed for military use. He said no Defense Department personnel would be involved with caring for or securing the children.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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