Feds consider housing undocumented minors in military bases
The federal government is looking into using military bases to house immigrant minors who are either caught traveling unaccompanied or separated from their families after crossing the southwest border illegally.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials are due to visit land parcels on four separate military installations to determine whether they are suitable to house such minors, according to an internal Department of Defense email reviewed by The Hill.
Three of the bases are in Texas: Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army base near El Paso; Dyess Air Force Base, near Abilene; and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo. Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas will also be reviewed.
HHS officials will only be making a preliminary assessment of the bases and no decisions on whether to go ahead with the plan have been made, according to the email.
Neither HHS nor DOD officials immediately responded to a request for comment.
The Obama administration used military bases to house unaccompanied minors in 2014 amid a surge in children from Central America coming across the border, according to a Reuters report at the time.
The shelters were opened at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California and Fort Sill, Okla.
While immigrants who are caught crossing the border illegally are arrested by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents, unaccompanied minors are turned over to HHS for placement in foster homes or appropriate installations, rather than DHS detention centers.
Earlier this month, Trump administration officials announced they would criminally prosecute all illegal border crossings, including by people traveling in family units.
By law, a person’s first illegal border crossing is a misdemeanor, so federal authorities previously freed first-time crossers on their own recognizance — a process that President Trump has criticized as “catch and release.”
The extra prosecutions will mean parents will get separated from their children, potentially increasing the number of children put in the care of HHS.
In an interview with NPR last week, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said her agency will indiscriminately refer for prosecution people who cross the border outside designated ports of entry.
“Operationally what that means is we will have to separate your family,” she said. “That’s no different than what we do every day in every part of the United States when an adult of a family commits a crime. If you as a parent break into a house, you will be incarcerated by police and thereby separated from your family.”