Defense sites in Texas could house immigrant children

The Trump Administration will notify Texas officials as it explores U.S. Department of Defense sites in the state as possible temporary housing for unaccompanied immigrant children, according to a Friday Pentagon email.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which has expressed a need to expand temporary shelter space, will notify state and local officials that it will be “conducting assessments” of Defense Department sites at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo for potential use “at some point in the future,” according to the email.

The Washington Post previously reported military bases in Texas and Arkansas would be evaluated to temporarily house immigrant children. During an immigration surge in 2014, the Obama Administration used a similar practice to temporarily house immigrants on bases in California, Oklahoma and as close as Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley could be shuttled to these prospective shelters.

According to U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, children separated from their parents under President Trump’s recently implemented “zero tolerance” policy would be included in these potential plans. Once the children are separated, they are then classified as unaccompanied, Vela said.

The Defense Department acknowledged in the email that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is within HHS, needs to expand its temporary shelter space. HHS has increased the number of shelter beds from approximately 6,500 to 11,400, the email read.

This email notification comes the same day the Washington Post reported the number of immigrants attempting to cross illegally into the United States remained high in May.

Trump’s zero tolerance policy, announced in April, has split children from their parents as they seek asylum. The adults, under this policy, are brought to federal court, where they are charged with illegal entry.

The children are brought to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which temporarily houses them. The military bases would provide additional temporary housing options for the refugee office.

Another Pentagon email, sent last week, said the Justice Department requested the Defense Department to temporarily assign up to 21 attorneys to serve as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys for up to 179 days.

This assignment could begin this month, the email said, and the Justice Department will fully reimburse the Defense Department for the appointment.

There are typically around 20 Assistant U.S. Attorneys in McAllen, though that number fluctuates at times. The Pentagon email did not specify where the 21 special attorneys would be posted, if approved by the Defense Department.