COLUMBUS, Ga. — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it is no longer considering temporarily sheltering at Fort Benning unaccompanied immigrant children who have been apprehended at the Southwest border amid a surge of asylum seekers.
U.S. Health and Human Services and Defense department officials visited the Columbus-area post last week to evaluate “unused property” there. The move followed an HHS request for the Pentagon to find space for up to 5,000 children at military bases.
The Fort Benning property “is no longer available for use to provide temporary shelter for unaccompanied alien children,” HHS said in a brief statement Tuesday. The agency said it had no other information about the decision. Fort Benning referred questions to the Defense Department, which did not respond to requests for comment late Tuesday.Also Tuesday, HHS announced federal property at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is not available for the same purpose. Fort Sill in Oklahoma, however, will be made ready to shelter up to 1,400 of the children in “hard-sided structures,” according to HHS. The same base sheltered immigrant children in 2014. HHS added that it is evaluating a U.S. Customs and Border Protection site in Santa Teresa, N.M., for a potential backup shelter site.
The federal government is scrambling to care for tens of thousands of children under 17 who are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border without parents and who have no legal status in the United States. Once they are apprehended, the children are transferred to the care of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement. That office cares for them until they are released to sponsors — usually parents or other relatives — while their immigration cases are heard.On Monday, Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson said HHS informed him last week that it would assess Fort Benning’s space.“There is a lot of interest that has been expressed by some of the folks in Columbus about whether or not it will end up being Fort Benning,” he said, adding he thought “there would be an outpouring of emotion over this issue. But I really have not heard a whole lot of talk one way or another about it.”
Asked for his opinion about sheltering immigrant children at Fort Benning, Henderson said: “We have got such a tremendous relationship with Fort Benning that if they need any resources from Columbus, we are going to do our best to provide them.”
Authorities are scrambling to care for tens of thousands of children who have no legal status in the United States and are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border without parents.
As of April 30, about 40,900 children were referred to a government agency this fiscal year, an increase of more than 50% from the previous year.
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