Though three U.S. military bases were initially slated to be used for only 120 days to house unaccompanied alien children apprehended at the U.S. border, the Department of Defense has approved the extension of housing plans at the facilities through January 2015.
Ventura County Naval Base in California, Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and Ft. Sill Army Base in Lawton, Okla. are being used to house the unaccompanied children, most of whom are from Central America.
The Department of Health and Human Services began using the bases in May and June. Had the contracts expired after the initial 120 days, the facilities would have ceased providing housing services in September and October.
Ventura County Naval Base houses up to 575 children, Lackland Air Force Base houses up to 1,200, and Ft. Sill Army Base has space for 600.
The bases are being used because U.S. law requires that unaccompanied children from countries that do not border the U.S. must be turned over to the care of HHS. The agency then attempts to place the children with family members or sponsors while they await deportation proceedings.
The Obama administration has scrambled to find housing for the children amid an unprecedented surge. The administration expects 90,000 unaccompanied children to be apprehended at the border for fiscal year 2014. That is a three-fold increase over last year’s totals.
Southwest Key Programs, which was contracted by the federal government to provide residential services at the Ventura County Naval Base and other non-military facilities, is ramping up its staffing levels ahead of the housing contract extension.
According to KEYT, it is advertising 330 new positions at the facility, including 275 positions for youth care workers, who will be paid between $16 and $22 per hour.
HHS spokesman Kenneth Wolfe did not respond to The Daily Caller’s question over whether the base could be used even past the new Jan. 2015 contract, though he indicated that the agency is keeping its options open.
“Several factors will determine the continued need for these temporary shelters: the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border, HHS’s capacity to care for the children in permanent, more cost effective shelters, and the time it takes to place the children with sponsors,” said Wolfe.
The agency has seen “some initial signs of progress” along the Southwest border since the beginning of July, Wolfe said, adding “although it is too early to tell whether these trends will be sustained over time.”
And while the number of unaccompanied children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection has fallen recently, “the number of children HHS is placing with appropriate sponsors as their immigration cases proceed has increased.”
“The number of arrivals is still too high and thousands of unaccompanied children are currently in the care of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. We will continue to monitor the situation closely in order to make the best decisions about the resources available to take care of the children.”
A request for comment from the Department of Defense was not immediately returned.