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Pentagon Awaits HHS Decision on Housing Migrant Children on Bases

Border Patrol agents take Central American immigrants into custody on January 4, 2017 near McAllen, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Border Patrol agents take Central American immigrants into custody on January 4, 2017 near McAllen, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Defense Department is ready to work with the Department of Health and Human Services on possibly housing children caught at the border on military bases, but no decisions have been made yet, a Pentagon official said Thursday.

The ultimate decision would be up to HHS, which is conducting a site survey to determine whether minors under the age of 18 could be sent to military bases, said Dana White, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson.

"No decisions have been made," White said at a Pentagon briefing. "We need to wait for the results of whatever their site survey is. HHS is in the lead because ultimately they have responsibility for these children."

"At this time, we haven't gotten any requests," she said, but if the decision is made to use military bases, "obviously, we will work with them."

In a previous migrant surge at the border in 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered military bases to be opened up to immigrant children. More than 3,000 children were then housed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Naval Base Ventura in California.

Hagel's decision was controversial, and the presence of the children on military bases in 2014 triggered scattered demonstrations by anti-immigration protesters. At one point, the protesters sought to block a bus convoy of children in California.

At the time, the DoD worked out lease arrangements with HHS to offer up excess or empty base buildings to house the children, and HHS was responsible for their care.

White declined comment on reports that bases in Texas and Arkansas are under consideration to deal with the current situation in which migrant families, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have been arriving at the border.

In a statement Wednesday, the Administration for Children and Families at HHS said it is "routinely evaluating the needs and capacity of an existing network of approximately 100 shelters in 14 states."

"Additional properties with existing infrastructure are routinely being identified and evaluated by federal agencies as potential locations for temporary sheltering," the statement said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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