The Pentagon on Wednesday approved a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to temporarily house unaccompanied minors at two Texas military facilities.
John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement that the department will temporarily house unaccompanied children who cross into the United States illegally at a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio in Lackland. The department has also approved a plant to construct a temporary housing facility at Fort Bliss.
“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,” Kirby said.
The announcement also stated that HHS will be covering the cost of the temporary housing. It also assured that the arrangement would not affect military training and operations.
“HHS will maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support for these children at all times on the installation,” he said.
This comes a day after Kirby told reporters that HHS had sent the request for temporary housing of migrant children at the two facilities. However, he was unable to provide further details about the request, saying that he had not perused the document at the time.
Kirby also could not say how many unaccompanied minors—children who unlawfully enter the country without an adult—could be housed at the two locations.
The United States is currently facing a significant surge in illegal border crossings, in particular from unaccompanied minors. While families and single adults are being expelled at the border, the administration is still accepting unaccompanied minors who arrive illegally.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged last week that the United States is “on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.”
President Joe Biden, who vowed to reverse his predecessor’s immigration policies during his campaign, has recently pleaded to Central American migrants to stay put in their “town or city or community” instead of making the dangerous trip to illegally cross into the United States.
Upon taking office, Biden reversed several Trump-era immigration policies, including his predecessor’s key Migrant Protection Protocol, which sought to end the problematic “catch and release” policy and is credited for significantly stemming the flow of illegal immigrants in 2019.
The sharp increase in unaccompanied minors arriving at the border, complicated by the ongoing pandemic, has overwhelmed border facilities and resources, and has seen the administration open more overflow shelters to handle the influx.
Earlier this week, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and Project Veritas separately released photos of unaccompanied minors sleeping on the floor in crowded conditions.