Pentagon asked about housing 20K migrant children at military bases

The Trump administration may place up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases starting as early as next month, according to a new Pentagon memo.

The notification, sent to lawmakers on Wednesday and first reported by The Washington Post, says the Defense Department received a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“HHS has requested DOD determine its capabilities to provide up to 20,000 temporary beds for unaccompanied children at DOD installations,” the document states.

If the Pentagon finds that it can provide such lodging, “the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) requests the facilities be available for occupancy as early as July through December 31, 2018.”

HHS personnel or contractors would run the sites, providing care to the children, “including supervision, meals, clothing, medical services, transportation or other daily needs,” the memo states.

The Defense Department “would be fully reimbursed” for all expenses as stipulated by the Economy Act, the document adds. 

The Pentagon on Thursday acknowledged it had received the request for assistance and "HHS and DOD are working closely to determine the requirements and timing for support," according to spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday said the military would house immigrant children if asked by the administration. 

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

Pressed on the issue, 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.”

“While four bases (three in Texas and one in Arkansas) have been visited by HHS for possible housing, it doesn't mean any or all children would be housed there,” Davis said in his statement.

"Secretary Mattis' guidance has been clear: that the DoD will support our federal partners.”

Mattis spoke just before President Trump signed an executive order intended to end family separations at the U.S. southern border, attempting to staunch the controversy over the administration's “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

Announced in April, the policy 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.

DOD has not yet officially received a request from HHS to house migrant children but if it does, Trump’s executive order directs that Mattis “take all legally available measures to provide the Secretary of Homeland Security, upon request, any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families,” the memo notes.

The executive order also says that the Pentagon must “construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.”

The administration for months has eyed military bases as possible holding sites for illegal migrants.

HHS officials in May targeted four military bases to visit determine whether they were suitable to house minors separated from their families.

Three of the bases visited are in Texas – Army base Fort Bliss; Dyess Air Force Base, near Abilene; and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo – and one is in Arkansas, Little Rock Air Force Base.

Using military bases to house minors is not unprecedented. The Obama administration in 2014 used Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California and Fort Sill, Okla., to house 7,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America.

This story was updated at 5:18 p.m.