Administration officials have requested the Pentagon to begin plans to house upwards of 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children at various military installations across the U.S.
The request by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services was sent to the Defense Department Thursday, shortly before defense officials notified congressional lawmakers on the move, a Pentagon official said.
The official could not confirm whether three military bases in Texas — Fort Bliss, Dyess Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base — and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas would be tapped to house the children, who had been separated from their migrant parents after they were deported for entering the U.S. illegally.
HHS officials had reportedly conducted site visits to the four locations in the days leading up to the department’s request to the Pentagon, according to the Washington Post. Defense Department leaders have yet to set a timeline as to how soon the children, currently being housed in temporary shelters along the U.S. southern border, could be relocated to the military facilities, the official said.
However, the effort is now a top priority for Defense Secretary James Mattis and other senior military leaders, the official added.
Roughly 2,500 children have been under the care of the Department of Homeland Security after being forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S. southern border, as part of the Trump White House’s zero tolerance immigration policy. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump signed an executive order ending the separations of migrant parents and children, amid growing pressure both at home and abroad to abandon the policy.
On Wednesday, Mr. Mattis told reporters the Pentagon would support any request from the administration on dealing with migrant issues along the border, noting the Defense Department had carried out similar humanitarian operations in the past.
“We have housed refugees. We have house people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes. We do whatever is in the best interest of the country,” Mr. Mattis said ahead of a meeting with German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen. at the Pentagon.
“We support whatever they need,” he added at the time.