The Defense Department has offered facilities at a fourth military base to provide temporary housing and care for the waves of undocumented children arriving at the nation's southwestern borders
"It's the right thing to do," Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday of offering a facility, possibly an old summer camp, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
"We have offered this up" to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to house the children while the Justice Department decides their fate, Warren said. "Those kids need a place to sleep."
A spokesman for HHS said in an e-mail statement that a vacant facility at Lewis-McChord "is currently under consideration to temporarily house up to 600 unaccompanied children."
The Defense Department has already provided facilities at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Naval Base Ventura, California, to care for the children. As of Monday, the three bases were housing 2,572 children, said Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman.
HHS has leased housing at the three bases for 120 days but those leases were likely to be renewed and facilities possibly opened at other bases as the surge to the border continues to grow.
The latest figures from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) showed that 52,193 unaccompanied children aged 17 and below had been apprehended at the southwestern border from last Oct. 1 through June 15, an increase of nearly 100 percent over the same period in 2012-2013.
The majority of the children were picked up in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the border and in areas across from Tucson, Ariz., CBP said.
The housing and care of the "unaccompanied alien children," or UACs as they are called by HHS, costs about $252 daily, according to federal estimates. The costs are picked by HHS and any incidental costs incurred by the military bases are re-imbursed by HHS, Pentagon officials said.
HHS said that the children primarily come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Most are over the age of 14 and about three-quarters of them are boys.
In an ABC News interview on Sunday, Obama said his message to Central American parents was: "Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they will be sent back."
The Obama administration has estimated that the costs of dealing with the waves of children, and adults with children, arriving at the borders could total about $868 million this year.
Earlier this week, President Obama said he would send an emergency request for $2 billion to address the border problem to Congress when the holiday Congressional recess ends on July 7.
President Obama on Monday blamed Republicans for blocking immigration reform legislation and contributing to what he called "an actual humanitarian crisis on the border that only underscores the need to drop the politics and fix our immigration system once and for all."
Republicans have countered that Obama's promises of reform have led Central Americans to believe that they will eventually be allowed to stay in the U.S. if they can reach the border.
"The journey is unbelievably dangerous for these kids," Obama said. "The children who are fortunate enough to survive it will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent back home."
"The problem is that our system is so broken, so unclear, that folks don't know what the rules are," Obama said.
The president said he would use the annual Fourth of July get together with service members and their families on the White House lawn to naturalize a number of troops who joined the military even though they weren't citizens.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com