In a surprise move, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that it would soon end it use of three military bases to house illegal immigrant children apprehended at the southwest U.S. border.
“To prudently manage its resources, HHS’s Administration for Children and Families will be suspending these temporary facilities,” said Administration for Children and Families spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.
“We are able to take this step because we have proactively expanded capacity to care for children in standard shelters, which are significantly less costly facilities.”
The announcement is a reversal of another plan announced last week to extend the use of the military facilities from their original 120-day contracts through Jan. 31, 2015.
Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Ft. Sill Army Base near Lawton, Okla. and Ventura County Naval Base near Oxnard, Cali. were being used to house thousands of unaccompanied children, most of whom are from Central America.
Though the unaccompanied children were mostly apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, U.S. law requires that children from countries that do not border the U.S. be turned over to the care of HHS. The agency is required to place the kids in the care of relatives or other sponsors while they await deportation proceedings.
Smaller shelters operated by non-profit organizations have traditionally been used to house the unaccompanied children. But the military facilities were tapped in order to deal with an unprecedented surge of the Central American illegals. The Obama administration expects 90,000 unaccompanied children to be apprehended this year. That is more than triple last year’s total.
Citing a decrease in the number of children apprehended at the southwest border, Wolfe said in the statement that Ft. Sill will close within days and the other facilities within weeks.
“As a result, we expect the Ft. Sill facility to no longer be caring for children by August 8,” Wolfe said in the statement. ”The other two facilities will also continue to phase down and we expect them to end operations over the next two to eight weeks.”
In total, 7,700 unaccompanied children have been processed through the three military outposts, Wolfe noted.
Citing “substantial uncertainty” going forward, Wolfe stated that “in the near-term the three temporary shelters on military bases could be re-opened for a limited time if the number of children increases significantly.”
“In order to balance managing costs with limited available resources and remaining prepared for sudden increases in the number of children needing care, HHS’s Administration for Children and Families plans to continue caring for unaccompanied children through a combination of standard shelters and surge capacity shelters.”