"I never thought I'd see this in the United States of America", House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said at the time. CBP provided media tours Wednesday at two locations in Brownsville and Nogales, Ariz., that have been central to processing the more than 47,000 unaccompanied children who have entered the country illegally since October 1.
Officials told AP that the federal government is considering housing at military bases those children picked up crossing the US border illegally either alone or after being separated from their parents by the government.
Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services will visit military installations in Texas and Arkansas over the next two weeks to evaluate whether they can accommodate the children, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing an email sent to Pentagon staffers. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Nielsen said her department was not taking children from parents as a way to deter illegal immigration.
The agency has denied a report by The New York Times that the confrontation left Nielsen close to resigning. That means any large increase in prosecutions will likely cause parents to be separated from their children while they face charges and do time in jail.
"If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally", he added.
According to the HHS official, the shelters are at 91 percent capacity and President Donald Trump's decision to crackdown on immigrants could significantly land more children in government care. "It's not our fault that somebody does that".
Military bases have previously been used to hold UAC, most recently during a wave of migrant children and families that began in 2014, overwhelming resources along the southwest border. Children spend an average of 45 days in HHS care, and 85% of children are reunited either with their parents or with another adult family member, according to the Post.
Critics have denounced Trump administration move to separate children from families, claiming it inflicts great trauma on the children.
Hagel's decision was controversial, and the presence of the children on military bases in 2014 triggered scattered demonstrations by anti-immigration protesters.
Trump last month ordered the Pentagon to help Homeland Security officials cope with the surge in illegal crossings, including the mobilization of up to 4,000 National Guard troops.
At the time, the DoD worked out lease arrangements with HHS to offer up excess or empty base buildings to house the children, and HHS was responsible for their care.
El Paso's Fort Bliss and Dyess Air Force base near Abilene are among several bases reportedly under consideration for the project. "Additional properties with existing infrastructure are routinely being identified and evaluated by federal agencies as potential locations for temporary sheltering", the agency told The Wall Street Journal, which also reported on the plan to use military bases to house migrant children.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, said the Defense Department had not yet received a formal request from HHS.