Mattis: Military will house immigrant children if asked

Mattis: Military will house immigrant children if asked
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Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Trump needs a national security adviser who 'speaks softly' US could deploy 150 troops to Syria: report MORE on Wednesday said the military would house immigrant children if asked.

Speaking to reporters outside the Pentagon before a meeting with Germany’s defense minister, Mattis told reporters that he’s focused on what’s happening “beyond the border,” but that the Pentagon would support the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) if asked.

“We’ll see what they come in with,” Mattis said. “We support DHS, and right now this is their lead, and we’ll respond if requested.”


Mattis spoke just before President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE signed an executive order intended to end family separations at the U.S. southern border.

Among other aspects of the order, it says the Defense secretary “shall take all legally available measures to provide to the [Homeland Security] secretary, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families, and shall construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.”

Pressed on the issue of housing children and families on military bases, Mattis listed other situations when the military has housed people in need.

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

The Trump administration has been engulfed in controversy over its “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

The policy, which was announced in April, has led to an estimated 2,000 children being separated from their adult guardians and placed in detention centers while the adults await prosecution for illegally crossing the border.

In May, Department of Health and Human Services officials were set to visit four military bases to determine whether they are suitable to house minors separated from their families in anticipation of the zero tolerance policy leading to a bigger need for such housing.

Three of the bases were 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.

Military bases have been used to house immigrant children before. In 2014, the Obama administration used bases to house unaccompanied minors amid a surge in children from Central America coming across the border.