(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has requested the Pentagon house migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at two Texas military bases: Fort Bliss in El Paso and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, according to a U.S. official.
The decision to locate migrants at Bliss and Goodfellow comes after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced last week that it would ask the defense department to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children at U.S. military bases.
In a briefing Monday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he could not confirm how the bases would be used when asked if they would house adults, children or families.
Bliss and Goodfellow were among four bases that HHS officials considered to house migrants in the event that other facilities reached capacity. The other two bases were Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas and Little Rock Air Force Base in Little Rock, Arkansas.
HHS has used facilities on U.S. military bases to house migrants in the past. In 2014, the department used bases in Texas, Oklahoma, and California to house 7,000 unaccompanied migrant children after HHS facilities reached capacity.
On Sunday, Mattis told reporters that DHS had asked DoD to “build temporary camps on two of our bases,” though he would not say which ones.
He also attempted to downplay DoD’s growing role in the migrant crisis on the southern border. There are already about 2,000 troops, mostly from the national guards of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, serving there now — but as support services to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, not in a law enforcement capacity.
“As you know, the military does not get involved with contact with illegal migrants. We do not get involved physically. They do not have any collaboration, that is done by the professionals and the Department of Homeland Security,” Mattis said.
“This is something that we can do again whether it be refugee boat people from Vietnam, people that have been knocked out of their homes by a hurricane. Absolutely it’s appropriate to provide logistical support however its needed,” he added.
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