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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. 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 )

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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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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