Unaccompanied migrant children will be housed on military bases in Texas as waves of people from Central America continue to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.
A Defense Department spokesman, John Kirby, said in a statement released Wednesday night that the children would be taken to a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio and on an “area of land” at Fort Bliss, where temporary housing would be constructed. He added that the Department of Health and Human Services would “maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support for these children at all times on the installation.”
The announcement came as lawmakers in both parties and advocates have expressed alarm over the continuing crisis at the border, and President Joe Biden has come under increasing criticism over his handling of it.
On Wednesday, he put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of resolving the matter. “I can think of nobody who’s better qualified to do this,” Biden said at the White House. “When she speaks, she speaks for me.”
Earlier this week, he sent two top White House officials to Mexico and Guatemala for talks that seek to stem the flow of illegal migration.
“I have an important message for those migrants who wish to enter the United States in an irregular fashion,” one of the officials, Roberta Jacobson said in a statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico on Tuesday evening. “Do not come to the border. The border is closed.”
Republicans have accused Biden of creating the problem by reversing some of former President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies while using more welcoming rhetoric regarding immigration.
They have singled out the administration’s decision to scrap the policy that sent migrant asylum-seekers back to Mexico to await their cases and repealing a Trump era-rule that made it more difficult to obtain visas.
Biden, speaking to reporters during a visit to Ohio on Tuesday, said the“last administration dismantled all that we had put in place.”
Earlier Wednesday, Kirby told reporters that Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado is also being looked at as a possible place to house migrant children.
Kirby said the operation at the two Texas bases “will not negatively affect military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard and Reserve readiness.”
— With assistance by Jordan Fabian, and Larry Liebert