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Homeland Security asks Pentagon for tents to detain at least 7,500 migrants

By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 15, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas – The Defense Department could soon begin erecting tents to detain at least 7,500 migrants, should acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan sign off on another assistance request from the Department of Homeland Security.

The request from Homeland Security, which is under review, was submitted May 9 to the Pentagon, asking the Defense Department to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to construct temporary facilities at six locations to detain, house and care for a minimum of 7,500 single adult migrants, said Maj. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesman.

In addition to erecting the tents, Homeland Security is asking the Pentagon to provide contracting support to ICE for “wraparound services” such as food, water, electricity, restroom facilities, laundry and medical support, Mitchell said.

“DoD will not provide detention or custodial support for detained aliens at these ICE detention facilities. ICE is responsible for detention or custodial support,” he said.

The request comes as Homeland Security officials describe an historic flow of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border that has overwhelmed their resources. Customs and Border Protection has apprehended more than 460,000 people in fiscal year 2019 at the southern U.S. border, surpassing yearly totals since 2009, Border Patrol Chief Carla L. Provost told Congress last week.

The Pentagon is already providing Homeland Security with more than 4,300 active-duty troops and National Guard members to conduct surveillance, build barriers, conduct logistical and aviation support, and medical and legal assistance.

That mission is approved through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. But during congressional testimony last week, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said members of his staff are working with Homeland Security officials to plan support for the next couple years.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the building of a border wall and $1.5 billion of the defense budget has been reprogrammed to support it. Contracts are already in place for more than 250 miles of wall, Shanahan told Congress last week.

The Department of Health and Human Services asked in April for the Pentagon to find potential housing for up to 5,000 migrant children. That request has yet to be put into action.

During a visit to the border over the weekend, Shanahan assured the military will not step down from this mission until the border is secure.

“What we want is for [Homeland Security] to be effective and stand alone,” Shanahan said, according to The Associated Press.

Thayer.rose@stripes.com
Twitter: @Rose_Lori
 

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