Trump Administration Seeking To Hold Unaccompanied Migrant Children On Military Bases

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

President Donald Trump’s administration is making plans to house alien minors on military bases as part of a push to prosecute adults who illegally cross the border with children in tow, according to multiple reports.

Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services will visit military installations in Texas and Arkansas over the next two weeks to evaluate whether they can accommodate the children, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing an email sent to Pentagon staffers.

The search for additional detention space for unaccompanied alien children (UAC) comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan announced last week plans to ramp up prosecutions of people caught crossing the border illegally. The plan includes parents and other adults traveling with children, so it is expected to increase the number of alien minors who must be separated from their guardians while they await court dates.

The Trump administration has been trying to reduce the flow of family units and UAC across the southwest border, which has risen in nearly every consecutive month since falling to a record low last spring. By separating parents and children and filing illegal entry charges against the adults, officials hope to create a deterrent for potential border jumpers.

“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law,” Sessions said in a speech last week, adding that “if you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

Under the new plan for families caught along the border, children will be treated as UAC and transferred to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the HHS office charged with caring for alien minors. The policy could add thousands of children to ORR’s already crowded child-welfare system. (RELATED: Feds Struggle To Cope With Growing Wave Of Unaccompanied Child Migrants)

In addition to its network of 100 shelters in 14 states, HHS currently operates one “temporary influx facility” at a Department of Labor site. The arrangement gives the government a permanent shelter capacity of roughly 10,000 beds, Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, told Congress in April.

Alien minors held in HHS custody spend an average of more than 50 days in a government-contracted facility before they are transferred to a sponsor, typically a parent or another adult relative already living in the U.S., Wagner said.

HHS says it routinely evaluates the need for additional space in its shelter network. “Additional properties with existing infrastructure are routinely being identified and evaluated by federal agencies as potential locations for temporary sheltering,” the agency told The Wall Street Journal, which also reported on the plan to use military bases to house migrant children.

Military bases have previously been used to hold UAC, most recently during a wave of migrant children and families that began in 2014, overwhelming resources along the southwest border.

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