HHS seeking use of two Texas military posts to house unaccompanied minors, Pentagon says

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The Department of Health and Human Services has requested the use of two Texas military posts as temporary housing for unaccompanied minors who arrive at the southern border, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday, as the Biden administration deals with a migrant surge.

Although there is precedent for approving such requests, Kirby said the Pentagon had just received the request and was in the process of analyzing and evaluating it before making a decision.

“It’s something we have done before in [2012] and in [2017], so this is not out of the norm for us to support these kinds of requests," Kirby told reporters. "But again, I don’t want to get ahead of the decision-making process or analysis which is literally a couple hours old."

HHS requested the use of a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and the use of some land at Fort Bliss, he added. Although he said he believed the request included the number of minors the department wanted to house, Kirby said he did not have that figure available.

"There was a site visit to San Antonio last week," he said. "I don’t have an update on a site survey for Fort Bliss, but that’s typically a common practice, to do a site survey. What I can tell you is we have a request and those are the two sites HHS asked for support from."

The Biden administration in recent weeks has come under criticism for its policy to not expel children arriving in the U.S. at the southern border, while maintaining that the border is closed. However, critics of the policy have called it mixed messaging from the White House — which has refused to call the situation at the border a "crisis" — because it encourages minors to make the journey from their home countries to the border.

“Well, I think the messaging will continue to be that it is not the time to come, it is not a safe journey to make, that we are turning away people at the border, the majority of people are turned away at the border," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "But at the same time, we believe it is the humane and moral step to treat and ensure, that these children are in safe places when they come across the border."

Psaki added that the administration is working to expedite processing at the border and open new facilities, adding that there would be additional ones in the coming days and weeks.

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that former President Donald Trump was to blame for having "dismantled the orderly, humane and efficient way" of dealing with the migrant children.

He told NBC’s "Meet the Press" that the administration was developing new policies to address the problem with Mexico and Central American countries that are the source of the asylum seekers.

"We are rebuilding those orderly and safe processes as quickly as possible," he said. "But in the meantime, we will not expel into the Mexican desert, for example, three orphan children whom I saw over the last two weeks. We just won’t do that. That’s not who we are."

President Joe Biden said Sunday that he would visit the border "at some point" and emphasized the need for a policy where migrants could start the asylum process before they came to the U.S.

"We’re in the process of doing it now, including making sure that we reestablish what existed before, which was they can stay in place and make their case from their home country.”

Jacqueline Feldscher contributed to this report.

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