Stars and Stripes – by Jon Harper
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military will provide housing space for up to an additional 5,000 unaccompanied Central American children who have illegally come across the border, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel signed the authorization last week at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Hagel’s order also extends the housing assistance mission to Jan. 31, 2015. In May, the Pentagon committed to providing space to up to 3,600 children for 120 days. There are 2,500 children being housed at Fort Sill, Okla., Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., and Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, according to Warren.
The Defense Department has not selected the bases where the additional 5,000 might be placed.
“We have not determined where these additional 5,000 spaces will come from. We are conducting assessments now to determine where we can best handle this influx of capacity … There’s a fairly extensive list of possible locations,” Warren said.
DOD has not yet authorized space to be provided at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Warren said. JBLM has been rumored to be a fourth potential housing location that the Pentagon is considering.
DOD is not directly involved in caring for the children. The department is merely providing unused space on military bases to be used by HHS. The Pentagon will be reimbursed by DHHS for any expenses incurred in the housing assistance mission, according to officials.
The Obama administration has said that it intends to repatriate the unaccompanied children to their home countries eventually.
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, House Republicans moved to slash President Barack Obama’s emergency spending request for the U.S.-Mexican border, speed young migrants back home to Central America, and send National Guard troops.
The proposals Wednesday amounted to a rebuke of Obama’s proposed solution to the crisis on the border. They put the House on a collision course with the Democratic-run Senate, and increased the likelihood that congressional efforts to address the crisis on the border, where unaccompanied young people have been showing up by the tens of thousands, will end in stalemate. There is little time to resolve it because Congress’ annual August recess is just around the corner.
More than 57,000 minors have arrived since October, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
A 2008 law guarantees them judicial hearings, which in practice allows them to stay in this country for years — before any deportation can be carried out — because of major backlogs in the immigration court system.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.