WASHINGTON (AP) — The Health and Human Services Department is considering housing at military bases those children picked up crossing the U.S. border illegally either alone or after being separated from their parents by the government, according to two U.S. officials.
One official said the department is looking at four bases in Texas and Arkansas. The officials discussed the plan Tuesday on condition of anonymity because it has not been made public or made final.
Health and Human Services, which oversees about 100 shelters in 14 states for children who are caught at the border, said in a statement that it routinely evaluates additional locations for temporary housing. It did not elaborate on specific plans.
Health and Human Services takes custody of children who cross the border alone within 48 hours, as well as children who are separated from their families when their parents are charged with crimes or the child’s welfare is in doubt.
During a surge in children from Central America in 2014, Health and Human Services temporarily used military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas to house children.
The Department of Homeland Security has limited space to house families that are kept together — only about 2,700 beds at three family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania. In April alone, people who came as families accounted for nearly 10,000 Border Patrol arrests. Another 4,300 were unaccompanied children.
Nearly 1 in 4 Border Patrol arrests on the Mexican border from October through April was someone who came in a family. That means any large increase in prosecutions will likely cause parents to be separated from their children while they face charges and do time in jail.