Pentagon asked to house up to 5,000 migrant children

By Ellen Mitchell  |  The Hill

Pentagon officials on Thursday confirmed that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked the Department of Defense (DOD) for space to house up to 5,000 immigrant children through the end of the fiscal year.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan on Tuesday “requested DOD support to identify space to house up to 5,000 unaccompanied alien children on DOD installations, if needed, through September 30, 2019,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement.

Davis added that the Pentagon “will work with the military services to identify potential locations for such support, and will work with HHS to assess any DOD facilities or suitable DOD land for potential use to provide temporary shelter for unaccompanied alien children.”

What else the plan entails:

Should HHS determine it is necessary to use Pentagon facilities or land, the department will submit an additional request to the DOD.

The move, first reported by The Washington Times, also includes a plan to transfer almost $400 million to pay to house the children, according to the outlet.

Should Pentagon leaders agree to open DOD facilities to unaccompanied migrant children, they would be overseen by HHS personnel.

“Nearly full” at existing shelters:

HHS is the federal agency responsible for unaccompanied children until an adult relative claims them. The agency currently holds about 11,500 such minors at government detention and processing centers in the United States, according to Time.

A spokeswoman told the outlet that it is requesting help from the Pentagon because of “the overwhelming number” of new unaccompanied children crossing the border and “nearly full” capacity at existing HHS shelters.

The background:

The Pentagon confirmed the request a day after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared for a tense hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss the administration’s policies at the border.

Nielsen was on Capitol Hill to defend the Trump administration policy, enacted last year, that led to the separation of hundreds of migrant families that crossed the southern border.

The request also came the same day the government released data that showed a spike in apprehensions and denials of people attempting to enter the United States in February. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data showed that 66,450 people were apprehended after crossing the border between ports of entry in February, compared with 47,986 the previous month.

Where would they go?:

It is not yet known where the Pentagon would house the migrant children should officials agree to fill the HHS request.

HHS last summer completed assessments of potential locations in Texas, including Army base Fort Bliss; Dyess Air Force Base, near Abilene; and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo; as well as Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

That assessment was made after HHS requested that the Pentagon determine its capacity to provide up to 20,000 temporary beds for unaccompanied children at its installations.

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