The Department of Homeland Security late Wednesday asked the Pentagon “to house and care for” up to 12,000 migrants, military officials said, and the request ultimately could lead the Defense Department to build large camps in Texas, Arizona and elsewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The Department of Defense has received a request for assistance from the Department of Homeland Security to house and care for an alien family population of up to 12,000 people. [Homeland Security] requests that DoD identify any available facilities that could be used for that purpose,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement. “If facilities are not available, DoD has been asked to identify available DoD land and construct semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people, at three separate locations.”
Military officials said the temporary facilities would preferably be built in the border states of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or California.
The request comes just days after the Health and Human Services Department asked the Pentagon to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children at military installations across the U.S. The Homeland Security request is different in that it asks the Pentagon to identify land and potentially construct the three temporary camps, which would ramp up military involvement in the ongoing immigration crisis.
Military officials say they’re under pressure to act quickly.
Homeland Security “requires the requested capacity to house 2,000 people within 45 days. A timeline will be developed to add additional capacity,” the military spokesperson said.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said the Pentagon will remain “flexible in our logistics” and will help in any way it can. He also confirmed that he’s already signed off on using Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base, both in Texas, to house migrants.
“We’ll provide whatever support the Department of Homeland Security needs in order to house the people that they have under their custody,” he said at an Alaska press conference en route to China.
“We’ve provided logistical support. And we’re not going to get into the political aspect. Providing housing, shelter for those who need it, is a legitimate governmental function,” he continued. “This one, I recognize the political aspects of it, but for us it’s a logistics support effort.”
Critics blasted the proposal as inhumane.
“This is the Trump administration’s next cruel plot — to imprison children and parents in military bases and tent cities,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Under Trump, each new day brings forward a new attack to immigrants’ constitutional rights. Families do not belong in detention — period.”
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