Fort Benning in Georgia is being considered as a possible temporary emergency shelter for the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said on Tuesday.
The Department has requested that a site assessment of unused Defense Department (DoD) property be conducted at Fort Benning Army Base, an HHS spokesperson said, in order to determine its potential use as a temporary emergency shelter.
HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is faced with a dramatic spike in the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC), receiving referrals of nearly 41,000 UAC in fiscal year 2019 alone – an increase over fiscal year 2018 by about 57 percent, the HHS spokesperson said.
“If this rate of referrals continues, ORR will care for the largest number of UAC in the program’s history in FY 2019. Based on the anticipated growth pattern in referrals of UAC […], ORR is preparing for the need for high bed capacity to continue,” the spokesperson noted.
Fort Benning is home to approximately 120,000 active duty service members and their families, and sees reserve soldiers, retirees and civilian employees through its gates on a daily basis. Fort Benning has served has Home of the Infantry since 1909. It is home of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, the U.S. Army Armor School, U.S. Army Infantry School, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment, among other units.
“DoD officials will join the HHS staff as they tour the vacant property available for potential future use. HHS will make the determination if the site will be used for UAC operations,” the spokesperson said, adding, “This effort will have no impact on DoD’s ability to conduct its primary missions nor on military readiness. HHS use of vacant DoD facilities is on a fully-reimbursable basis under the provisions of the Economy Act. The DoD has been an exemplary partner in this humanitarian crisis and we look forward to their continued partnership as we develop efficient, cost-effective strategies to address these types of variations in border crossings by unaccompanied children.”
It was reported in mid-May that An Air Force base in Montana and an Army base in Oklahoma were being considered to serve as a temporary shelter for unaccompanied illegal immigrant children, HHS had said.
The Department of Defense was going to asses unused space at both Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, and Army base Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
HHS noted that “[c]hildren age 17 and under who are unaccompanied by parents or other legal guardians and who have no lawful immigration status in the United States and [are] apprehended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are transferred to the care and custody of ORR.”
“ORR is legally required to provide for the care and custody of all UAC referred to ORR until they are released to appropriate sponsors, usually a parent or relative, while their immigration cases proceed,” HHS added.