The Pentagon has found two military bases that can temporarily house an overflow of illegal aliens or unaccompanied children while their cases are being processed — Goodfellow Air Force Base and Fort Bliss in Texas.
The bases were identified after the Department of Health and Human Services asked the Pentagon to potentially house up to 20,000 unaccompanied children, and after President Trump asked the Pentagon to be able to support any Department of Homeland Security requests to deal with an overflow of illegal migrants and asylum seekers that has overwhelmed their system.
“Providing shelter for people without shelter, we consider that to be a logistics function that is quite appropriate,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Monday en route to Beijing.
The housing would be for six months, from July through December, and would be ready by the end of July, a defense official said.
HHS and DHS are still assessing who would go to these bases, how many would go to each base, and if there are sufficient facilities or whether it will be necessary to construct tents, and how much it will cost. Any DOD support would have to not impact readiness, the official said.
The military would not be responsible for watching, feeding, or securing the migrants, and would be reimbursed for any costs. “DOD is in a support role to federal partners,” the official said.
Housing migrants at military bases would not be new. In 2014, the Obama administration housed more than 7,700 children at three military bases for four months: Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and Naval Base Ventura in California.
“This is not any different,” the official said, in regards to using military bases to house migrants. “It is a continuation of the same policy that Obama had.”
Members of Congress will be able to arrange visits to the bases, the official said.
The Pentagon has not asked any of the military services to provide more space, but the Navy has preemptively begun planning in case it is asked, the official said.
A copy of the Navy’s plan was leaked to Time magazine on Sunday. The Navy would house migrants at three remote or shuttered military bases in California, Alabama, and Arizona in “temporary and austere” tent cities.
The Navy could house 25,000 migrants at abandoned airfields near Mobile, Alabama — Navy Outlying Field Wolf in Orange Beach, Alabama; and nearby Navy Outlying Field Silverhill.
It could also house up to 47,000 migrants at now-shuttered Naval Weapons Station Concord, near San Francisco, and as many as 47,000 at Camp Pendleton, California.
It may also study housing an undetermined number of migrants at the Marine Corps Air Station near Yuma, Arizona.
The plan estimates it would cost about $233 million to construct and operate a facility for 25,000 people for a six-month time period. The proposal suggests the plan would be for between six months and a year.
The maximum estimated cost of the Navy’s plan for six months would be $1.1 billion, according to those figures.
The Pentagon has also agreed to send 21 active and reserve military lawyers to southern border states to help prosecute immigration cases.
A bipartisan group of senators has urged Mattis to reverse that decision, arguing it would leave active duty posts empty and would involve calling up reservists for the mission despite already being overloaded on military cases.
“Clearly, the military needs more, not fewer, lawyers available for its critical military justice practice. Instead, we have now learned the services will be diverting these valuable resources to support a non-military mission,” wrote Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Pat Leahy (D-VT).
“Pulling twenty-one trial counsel from military courtrooms to prosecute immigration cases is an inappropriate misapplication of military personnel. We urge you to maintain these resources within the military justice system,” they wrote.