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Temporary facilities in Donna, Texas, safely process family units and unaccompanied migrant children encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Temporary facilities in Donna, Texas, safely process family units and unaccompanied migrant children encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. (Jaime Rodriguez Sr.)
Temporary facilities in Donna, Texas, safely process family units and unaccompanied migrant children encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Temporary facilities in Donna, Texas, safely process family units and unaccompanied migrant children encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. (Jaime Rodriguez Sr.)
Temporary facilities in Donna, Texas, safely process family units and unaccompanied migrant children encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol.
Temporary facilities in Donna, Texas, safely process family units and unaccompanied migrant children encountered and in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. (Jaime Rodriguez Sr.)

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department has been asked to house unaccompanied migrant children at two military bases in Texas, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman said Tuesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently submitted a request for temporary housing at Joint Base San Antonio and Fort Bliss for the children, John Kirby said during a Pentagon news briefing.

The request is still being evaluated by defense officials, Kirby said. He did not know how many children HHS expects to house at the two bases. HHS asked to use a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio and some land at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Kirby said.

Questions to HHS about the request to use military bases to house children went unanswered Tuesday afternoon.

The U.S. border with Mexico has experienced rising numbers in migration, including unaccompanied children, since April due to violence, natural disasters, food insecurity, and poverty in Central America, according to a Department of Homeland Security statement issued March 13. In fiscal year 2020, there were 33,239 unaccompanied children who border security encountered. In the first five months of fiscal year 2021, which began Oct. 1, they have found 29,729 children, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help safely shelter and move these migrant children.

Children who are found by U.S. Border Patrol agents must be transferred to HHS within 72 hours, but more than 3,000 children have been held for longer and in unfit facilities, according to recent news reports.

This would not be the first time that unaccompanied children have been housed at military installations or even at these specific bases in Texas. Between 2012 and 2017, almost 16,000 children were housed at five military bases in California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas, according to a 2018 Congressional Research Service report.

Lackland Air Force Base, which is part of Joint Base San Antonio, housed children in 2012 and 2014, and Fort Bliss housed children from 2016 to 2017, according to the report.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon said HHS had conducted a site survey at Fort Lee near Richmond, Va., to evaluate the installation for potentially housing unaccompanied migrant children. It is not clear why Fort Lee was not included in this recent request.

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