Pentagon to house migrant children at two Texas bases

Pentagon to house migrant children at two Texas bases
© Reuters/Voice of America

The Defense Department (DOD) will temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at two Texas military installations, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

DOD approved a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to temporarily house the children at a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland. Children will also stay in a “suitable temporary housing facility” on an area of land on Fort Bliss outside El Paso, according to a Pentagon statement.

“DOD will provide HHS officials access to these locations immediately to begin initial actions to prepare for receiving unaccompanied migrant children as soon as preparations are complete.”

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The military installations would house the children through the end of the calendar year under the initial requests from HHS, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters earlier on Wednesday.

Kirby would not say how many children would be housed at each location.

Unaccompanied migrant children have increased in number at the U.S.–Mexico border in recent months as the Biden administration has decided to not deport the minors.

But HHS-run shelters, which typically house the children before they can be released to parents or other sponsors in the United States, have become strained under the record number of border crossings.

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. But Kirby said Wednesday that the installation was “no longer being considered” as “the infrastructure there just wasn’t suitable for children.”

HHS may ask the military for further help, as it had also conducted a site visit of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., earlier on Wednesday.

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Wednesday’s announcement stipulates that HHS will fully cover the cost of the Pentagon assistance on a reimbursable basis, and it “will not negatively affect military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard and Reserve readiness.”

Furthermore, HHS “will maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support for these children at all times on the installation."

Kirby said there is also the possibility that the Defense Department would provide some contracting support.