May 16, 2018, 6:09 PM ET

Trump HHS considers using military bases to house immigrant children

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Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services are visiting four U.S. military bases in Texas and Arkansas that could be used as additional facilities to house immigrant children forcibly separated from their mothers and fathers – as the parents face prosecution for illegally entering the United States.

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HHS has not made a formal request of the Department of Defense for use of the facilities, but the informal visits show that federal agencies are preparing for the Trump administration's plans to prosecute all immigrant adults who enter the country illegally.

In early May, the Trump administration announced that all adults detained at the border for crossing into the United States illegally would be prosecuted by the Justice Department, including parents who bring their children with them.

The policy applies only to families crossing the border illegally between official ports of entry. The new policy does not apply to families who present themselves at official ports of entry and request asylum protections.

The planned increase in prosecutions will send parents to detention facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security while their children would go to holding facilities administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is the federal agency tasked with providing foster care to unaccompanied minors until they are placed with adult relatives.

The anticipated increase in prosecutions likely means HHS facilities used to house unaccompanied minors could be stretched to maximum capacity.

Once again HHS may turn to the U.S. military for extra space to house unaccompanied minors as it did in 2014. At that time HHS temporarily housed 7,000 children at U.S. military bases in Texas, Oklahoma, and California to deal with the spike in illegal crossings into the United States by unaccompanied minors.

The Pentagon has not received an official request from HHS to provide some of its facilities to house unaccompanied children.

But a defense official acknowledges that a team of HHS officials is visiting four military bases to see if some of their facilities are appropriate for their needs to house immigrant children who are separated from their parents.

According to the official, the HHS team is visiting four locations: Dyess AFB (Abilene, Texas), Goodfellow AFB (San Angelo, Texas) Fort Bliss (El Paso, Texas) and Little Rock AFB in Arkansas.

The HHS team will decide if some or all of the four military facilities meet their requirements for potential future use.

A statement from the HHS Administration for Children and Families said the office routinely evaluates "the needs and capacity of an existing network of approximately 100 shelters in 14 states."

"Additional properties with existing infrastructure are routinely being identified and evaluated by federal agencies as potential locations for temporary sheltering," said the statement.

On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen faced tough questioning on Capitol Hill from senators concerned about the administration's plans. But Nielsen put the onus on parents choosing to bring their children illegally across the border.

"My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted," Nielsen told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"If you're a parent or you're a single person or you happen to have a family, if you cross between the ports of entry, we will refer you for prosecution. You've broken U.S. law."

Nielsen said that separating children from parents facing prosecution was no different than other cases in the United States where children are separated from parents facing criminal prosecution.

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  • justdave

    This is why we need a real wall and real enforcement. Pile these illegals into some unused hangers and warehouses under conditions that make their homeland look good. These are not guests, they are invaders.

  • Jenna

    I think this administration is biting off more than it can chew, and the results will be nothing short of horrifying. You can't treat children like you do adults. They can't be just thrown into cages and forced to "earn their keep" while years go by with nothing else happening. Compared to adults, children require ENORMOUS resources to keep them safe, comfortable, and healthy. ANY attempt (however slight) to make these "juvenile detention facilities" punitive in nature will (hopefully) be met with ENORMOUS public backlash.

    Much as everyone may revile and disdain illegal immigration, we can't take that collective anger out on children who weren't given any choice in the matter. One way or another, this plan is going to backfire. If done correctly, t's going to be INSANELY expensive, with taxpayers balking at the notion of providing free food and shelter and education and medical care to "those people." Otherwise, it's going to be some for-profit concentration camp where every corner is cut and innocent children are shoved into cages and left to rot (at the mercy of a sadistic, perverted staff) until/unless public backlash starts threatening elections.

  • DuelingDogmas

    Under federal law, which adopts the United Nations definition, torture is: “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as … punishing him or her for an act he or she or a third person … has committed or is suspected of having committed.”

    Removing a child from their parent involuntarily is considered 'intentionally inflicted' and thus is considered torture under the UN's definition.

    Of course the US government, and Trump by nominating Haspel, apparently condone torture AGAIN. Just to children this time.

  • DuelingDogmas

    Wow. Does this man (I use that term in the loosest sense of the word) have no shame at all?

    I mean really, forcing children to live in Arkansas or Texas is just cruel and unusual punishment. Not to mention it's probably kidnapping, extortion and child abuse to do this - but Hey, this is trump, who needs laws?

  • Mark T Bassard

    This is spooky and dangerous and hearkens back to those bad old days of Japanese interment of WW2 and sending Native Americans to unfit territories two centuries ago. Wow, history IS repeating itself in Trump's America. What's next? Calling the police when African Americans do normal things in life like going to Starbucks, having a picnic around Lake Merritt in Oakalnd, sleeping or walking in the neighborhood at 3 am doing nothing? Oh, sorry.. that's happening now. Nazism is coming again and this is dangerous this time around with the clowns at 1600. Will concentration camps be far behind? Remember good Americans, midterm elections are near and vote these extreme jokers OUT!

  • Nala

    surely the United Nations will be coming after trump due to Crimes against Humanity?

  • HornsNbr1

    Dump them and their parents back on the other side of the border the same day they are caught.

  • Niltsi

    So I've lived on a lot of military bases. They all had limited resources for childcare and medical even for the military members and their LEGAL family members.

  • Prophet With Honor

    Little Rock is an odd choice. The base is extraordinarily busy and does not offer much free space. Facilities are already at their capacity and there is no way to change it's mission. I would think there would be far better locations.

  • Niltsi

    So, not immigrants, but illegal aliens. Stop with the misleading titles.

  • mv75

    Don't forget to tattoo their arms. I have never despised another living being in my entire life as much as I despise Donald Trump. Nothing even close. Not only do I not consider him to be a human, I'm beginning to wonder if he's a mammal.

  • USAF Retired

    So exactly who will be responsible for caring for all these children once they're placed on a military installation? Where will they be housed? Who will look after them and take care of their daily needs? Will there be an age limit? Will older children be allowed to roam free? They will need tending to 24x7.

  • TexasVulcan

    If they are caught at the border, why can we simply not just turn them around and not let them in? Or are we talking about people caught elsewhere?

  • CaptnBlynd

    "the informal visits show that federal agencies are preparing for the Trump administration's plans to prosecute all immigrant adults who enter the country illegally."
    As the law demands.

    "The new policy does not apply to families who present themselves at official ports of entry and request asylum protections."
    Because they are not breaking the law.

    "My decision has been that anyone who breaks the law will be prosecuted,"
    Just common sense and fair play.

    We do not put children in adult prisons for the crimes of their parents. We must care for them somewhere while the parents are being prosecuted for their crime. We have laws or suggestions, I prefer laws. Laws are enforced without exception. Suggestions are not enforced.

  • rightened

    Remember back in 2016, when "On Day One..." every illegal immigrant was going to be rounded up and sent back to "where they came from" (even if it wasn't where they came from, they were just going to be kicked out of the country)? People were actually getting chub-chubs, thinking they might have the chance to join an armed militia and start kicking in doors.

    This housing scenario is the VERY thing that people were denying two years ago... the idea that we would be using areas in our country as detainment facilities. That we would be spending ANY money whatsoever to feed, house, clothe, provide legal counsel for, and otherwise take care of illegal immigrants. There was an ABSOLUTE rejection of the idea that we would be spending money on transportation for the immigrants and for those guarding them, that there would be any waste of money to have armed guards, that any facilities would need to be established/upgraded...

    What do you say NOW, Trump supporters? You were all on board with the idea of "kick them out" but didn't stop to think, "Oh, that can't happen in one day" much less "what about the children?" And NOBODY wanted to listen to the idea of providing care for them! It's like trying to explain how "the wall" isn't just the wall, it's about construction costs, per diem, feeding/housing workers, union involvement, etc. that all inflates the cost.

  • reality25

    Phase 2- concentration camps under construction in Guantanamo Bay.