The Trump administration is evaluating military bases around Texas as possible sites for additional temporary shelter for the growing number of migrant children separated from parents, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
While the HHS' Administration for Children and Families confirms a need for more "temporary shelters for unaccompanied alien children," the McClatchy news service says officials are considering erecting "tent cities" for between 1,000 and 5,000 children at a military facility.
In the coming weeks, officials will be evaluating Fort Bliss Army base near El Paso as a potential site, along with Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo.
HHS says its Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for caring for minors who are in the country illegally without parent or guardian, routinely evaluates its needs and capacity for an existing network of some 100 shelters in 14 states.
"Additional properties with existing infrastructure are routinely being identified and evaluated by federal agencies as potential locations for temporary sheltering," according to the ACF.
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The resettlement office is responsible for looking after more than 11,200 migrant children being held without a parent or guardian. The existing shelters are now 95% full, according to McClatchy.
The number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has increased more than 20 percent as a result of a new "zero-tolerance" policy by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. That policy directs the Border Patrol to refer all people caught crossing the border illegally for criminal prosecution, regardless of their situation.
As a result, children traveling with parents caught at the border are forcibly removed and placed into government care while their parents face criminal charges in court.
Some HHS officials say the children are placed in an appropriate setting while a sponsor can be found to care for them as their immigration case proceeds. The officials argue that the policy helps protect the border while preventing children from falling into the hands of traffickers.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families have been taken into custody since 2014, when a surge of Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan mothers and children crossed into the U.S., fleeing violence and poverty.
The unaccompanied children are generally turned over to family or held in an HHS shelter, such as a detention center or tent city. Now, children who arrive with their parents are also being separated from them and sent to HHS shelters or sponsor families, leading to the problem of overcrowding.
The Trump administration blames existing loopholes in the law that require federal authorities to release illegal immigrants to await hearings to which many of them fail to appear. Justice Department officials have argued that the "loopholes" block the administration from quickly deporting unaccompanied children.