The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requested help from the Department of Defense to hold unaccompanied minors coming from Mexico into the United States.
“The Department of Defense has received a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children. Specifically, HHS has requested use of select a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas and an area of land on Fort Bliss, Texas,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said at a press conference.
“If provided, this support would be on a fully-reimbursable basis, and DoD would only provide this kind of support where will not negatively affect military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard and Reserve readiness. If this request is approved, HHS would maintain its responsibility for the well-being and support for these children,” Kirby said.
The Pentagon also confirmed that HHS conducted an assessment visit to Fort Bliss earlier on Tuesday, and a visit to San Antonio last week.
CNN reported Monday that nearly 5,000 minors are currently in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Despite federal court orders requiring CBP to turn children over to HHS within 72 hours, the Biden administration has become overwhelmed and unable to comply.
The request for help from DOD came after photos of CBP facilities now holding the migrant children leaked to U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar were published by Axios showing them sleeping on the floor crowded together and wrapped in silver foil blankets.
EXCLUSIVE: Photos from inside a temporary border overflow facility in Texas reveal the crowded, makeshift conditions at the border as the government's longer-term child shelters and family detention centers fill up. https://t.co/VFZdnX40ry
— Axios (@axios) March 22, 2021
Kirby said HHS’s request to DOD came on Tuesday, but that he did not know the number of children HHS was requesting that DOD house temporarily.
He noted that the DOD also provided facilities for migrant children in 2012 and 2017.
“So this is not — it is not out of the norm for us to support these kinds of requests,” the Pentagon spokesman said.
Kirby confirmed there are about 3,500 National Guard troops stationed at the southern border, providing support to the Customs and Border Protection, in a mission that began under former President Donald Trump.
“They’re not involved in actual Border Patrol missions. They’re doing things that will free the Border Patrol agents up to do their jobs. I know of no changes to that mission right now,” Kirby concluded.