The Defense Department on Tuesday received a written request for assistance from the Health and Human Services Department to help temporarily house an influx of children fleeing Central America arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“We have just received this request, so I don’t have much more detail than that,” he said. “We will analyze it and evaluate it just like we would any other request for assistance, and we’ll keep you posted as we know more.”
Kirby did not know how many children would be housed at the installations, but said that, “As I understand it, at San Antonio, it’s for use of a vacant dormitory, and at Fort Bliss, it’s use of some land.”
Since President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, the U.S. has seen a dramatic spike in the number of people encountered by border officials.
There were 18,945 family members and 9,297 unaccompanied children encountered in February — an increase of 168 percent and 63 percent, respectively, from the month before, according to the Pew Research Center. That creates an enormous logistical challenge because children, in particular, require higher standards of care and coordination across agencies.
Among the reasons for the surge: thousands of Central American migrants already stuck at the border for months and the persistent scourge of gang violence afflicting Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Still, the encounters of both unaccompanied minors and families are lower than they were at various points during the Trump administration, including in spring 2019.
Military installations have housed unaccompanied immigrant children before, including in 2012 and 2014.
“It’s not out of the norm for us to support these kinds of requests, but again, I don’t want to get ahead of the decision-making process,” Kirby said.
Recent trends have shown the Pentagon fulfilling all manner of requests from other government agencies, whether it’s the Homeland Security Department requesting troops along the southern border, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking for troops to staff COVID-19 mass vaccination sites and the thousands of National Guard members posted at the Capitol in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.