WASHINGTON, July 8, 2014 —
Defense Department officials are in discussions with Department of Health and Human Services officials to house more children who have entered the United States unaccompanied, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said today.
During a Pentagon news conference, Kirby said the department is processing requests right now from HHS to house more children.
“I wouldn’t put an exact number on it, because that's still in discussion,” the admiral said.
Three bases already are housing these unaccompanied children – Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and Naval Base Ventura, California. Currently, DoD facilities can accommodate 2,375 of these children.
The facilities being used are excess to DoD needs, Kirby said. “We’re providing access to certain facilities that were already vacant and not being used and are, therefore, available, and in the first three cases are relatively close to the border itself,” he said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supports the mission, the admiral said, and is assured that housing these young people will not impinge on troops. “He understands the importance of making sure that these children get the care that they need once they get inside the country,” Kirby said.
HHS owns this mission, and while DoD is providing the facilities, “we are not responsible for the children themselves,” the press secretary said.
The original agreement between DoD and HHS places a 120-day cap on the time the children can be housed on the bases. Lackland has housed the children for about two months, and Kirby would not speculate on whether that cap will be extended. “It’s certainly something that could be discussed,” he said.
HHS will reimburse DoD for the facilities, Kirby said.
Some 60,000 unaccompanied children could enter the United States this year, officials said. For many, transnational criminal networks play a role in getting them to the United States.
In addition, officials said, these transnational criminal networks create much of the instability that causes many of these children to flee from Central and South America. The networks smuggle humans, drugs and weapons for a price.
The threat these groups pose cannot be countered solely by the military, officials noted, adding that Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson are working together on the threat.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)