(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon is looking at additional facilities that could accommodate migrants coming across the U.S.-Mexico border beyond housing at U.S. military bases in Texas, officials said Tuesday.
“We are looking at additional facilities so we can break up those populations so we can…manage the impact on the installations that were selected,” Department of Defense spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters on Monday.
Here’s what is known about how the U.S. military will play a role in housing migrants.
What are the two bases?
Both bases, Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base, are in Texas. Located outside El Paso, Fort Bliss boasts over 965,000 acres and is home to the Army’s 1st Armored Division. Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo trains airmen in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at the 17th Training Wing. The Pentagon has said that migrant families will be housed at Bliss, while unaccompanied migrant children will be located at Goodfellow.
How many migrant families could be housed on bases?
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested that DoD house up to 12,000 migrant families for a period of up to six months. If existing facilities on base are not available, DHS has asked DoD to construct “semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities.” The first 4,000 individuals would be housed at Fort Bliss, with two additional locations needed for the remaining population. DHS does not want more than 4,000 individuals on any one base.
How many unaccompanied migrant children could be housed on bases?
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked DoD to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children. But while the request from DHS to DoD regarding migrant families specified when migrants would arrive and what types of facilities they would need, HHS has not yet given DoD those details.
When will migrants arrive on base?
The Pentagon said on Monday it will be able to meet DHS’s request to house 2,000 migrants by August 11. These individuals will be part of the migrant family population located at Fort Bliss.
What are the implications for the military?
A U.S. official told ABC News that the housing of migrants would have no impact to military readiness because costs can be reimbursed to the department through the Economy Act. Additionally, any facilities constructed on U.S. military bases would not affect daily operations and training for service members, the official said.
What other bases are under consideration?
The other bases are not known yet. In the memo to DoD last week, DHS referenced the Flores Settlement Agreement which states that reasonable efforts should be made to place minors in the geographic area where the majority are apprehended. Therefore, DHS told DoD they prefer facilities in states close to the U.S./Mexico border: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
Bliss and Goodfellow were among two other U.S. military bases (Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas) toured by HHS officials in the last several months. So it’s possible that migrants could be housed there.
It was also revealed last month that the U.S. Navy was preparing to house as many as 25,000 migrants at remote facilities in California, Arizona, and Alabama, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of an internal Navy document. The document appeared to have been written in anticipation of the Navy being asked to house migrant populations and said the department could spend $233 million to construct and operate a facility that could house 25,000 migrants for up to six months. Facilities named in the document included Naval Weapons Station Concord near San Francisco, the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton in Southern California, Navy Outlying Field Wolf in Orange Beach, Alabama and nearby Navy Outlying Field Silverhill, and the Marine Corps Air Station near Yuma, Arizona.
Has this happened before?
In 2014, HHS used bases in Texas, Oklahoma, and California to house 7,000 unaccompanied migrant children after HHS facilities reached capacity.
What about the National Guard troops assisting on the southern border?
Defense Secretary James Mattis has already signed a memo allowing up to 4,000 National Guard troops to assist DHS with the security of the U.S./Mexico border. About 2,000 troops, mostly from the National Guards of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, are 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 told reporters last week.
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