The Trump administration is making preparations to warehouse migrant children on military bases, according to Defense Department communications, the latest sign the government is moving forward with plans to split up families who cross the border illegally.
The Washington Post reported that an email notification sent to Pentagon staffers stated that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will be visiting four military bases to evaluate suitability for child shelters.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week announced a new plan to split up families caught sneaking into the United States from Mexico - placing the kids in shelters or with other relatives while their moms and dads are held in immigration jails and prosecuted.
But HHS's current facilities are at 91 percent capacity, and the scheme could send thousands more kids into government care - border agents arrested more than 100,000 border-crossers in March and April, according to the report.
The email states that "no decisions have been made at this time", and describes the visits as preliminary assessments.
Children held in HHS custody spend an average of 45 days in the government's care, the HHS official said, and they are provided with educational and recreational opportunities.
"If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally" he added. The Texas bases are the Army's Fort Bliss in El Paso, Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo and Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. The official said HHS now has the bed space to hold 10 571 children. Potential sponsors for minors are given background checks, and 85 percent of children are released to parents or other adult relatives already living in the U.S.
It's not clear whether the troops could be assigned to the bases where children will be sheltered. Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas will also be reviewed. Critics say the practice harms families and inflicts more trauma on people fleeing gang violence in their home countries.
There is precedent for using military bases to house illegal immigrant children, the Post reported: The Obama administration used bases in Oklahoma, Texas, and California to shelter more than 7,000 children over a period of several months.