HHS asks Pentagon to house migrant children at two Texas bases
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked the Pentagon to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at two Texas military installations, the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed Tuesday.
HHS sent a request for assistance to the Pentagon for specific use of a vacant dorm at Joint Base San Antonio, in Lackland, and vacant land at Fort Bliss outside of El Paso, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Kirby could not say if the request included the number of children that would be housed at each location, saying he had not seen the document and referring further questions to HHS.
“We have just received this request so I don’t have much more detail than that. We’ll analyze it and evaluate it just like we would any other request for assistance,” he said.
The two bases had previously not been disclosed as under consideration to house migrant children, who have increased in number at the southwestern border in recent months.
While the Biden administration is deporting most single adults and families attempting to cross the border illegally, it is not doing the same to unaccompanied children.
HHS-run shelters typically house the minors before they can be released to parents or other sponsors in the United States, but the department’s facilities have become strained under the current flood of border crossings.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged last week that the number of attempted crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border is expected to reach its highest level in 20 years.
The Pentagon revealed in early March that the Biden administration was considering Fort Lee, Va., about 30 miles south of Richmond, as a possible location to place some children and had conducted a site assessment. DOD has not yet received a formal request for assistance from HHS to use the Army facility.
Kirby said HHS also held a site assessment at Joint Base San Antonio last week. He did not have information about such a visit to Fort Bliss.
He added that he did not know of any other U.S. military locations under consideration by HHS.
The United States in the past has used military bases to house unaccompanied children. In 2014 during the Obama administration, Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland; Naval Base Ventura County, Calif.; and Fort Sill, Okla., housed roughly 7,500 unaccompanied minors from Central America, but closed after four months.
In 2019 under the Trump administration, the Pentagon was asked to find space to house up to 5,000 immigrant children.