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Pentagon approves request to house unaccompanied migrant children at JBSA-Lackland dorm

Fort Bliss was also included in the request, which was submitted to the Pentagon by the Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday.

SAN ANTONIO — A day after the Pentagon said it was reviewing a request to temporarily house an undetermined number of migrant children at Joint Base San Antonio Lackland amid the evolving situation at the southern border, the Department of Defense said the request has been approved. 

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement:

"Today, the Department of Defense approved a request for assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at a vacant dormitory at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, Texas and an area of land on Fort Bliss, Texas to construct suitable temporary housing facility. DoD will provide HHS officials access to these locations immediately to begin initial actions to prepare for receiving unaccompanied migrant children as soon as preparations are complete.

This support will be on a fully-reimbursable basis, and will not negatively affect military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard and Reserve readiness. HHS will maintain custody and responsibility for the well-being and support for these children at all times on the installation."

It's unknown when some of the children will start arriving at the San Antonio Air Force base, but a release states preparations will begin immediately. Vacant dormitory space is expected to be used to shelter the children, and Fort Bliss was also included in the request. 

Bexar County leaders say they're also discussing the possibility of using Freeman Coliseum on the east side as another temporary housing site for migrants. Those conversations remain ongoing as of Wednesday evening, and Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said nothing has been finalized. 

But if a contract is approved, the Freeman Coliseum will have coronavirus safety measures in place. Rodriguez said more information could come by Friday.

"Again, if this goes forward, having a separate area for those who may be tested later and need to be quarantined at Freeman," Rodriguez said. "I think there is discussion of potentially housing up to 2,100 (migrants) is the number I heard at Freeman. Again, this is a humanitarian effort. We are dealing with children."

Sheriff Javier Salazar spoke out against the possibility of opening a second location to house migrant children. He said the county doesn't have enough manpower and wrote an e-mail to County Judge Nelson Wolff and commissioners to list his concerns. The full e-mail said: 

"Judge Wolff and Commissioners,

"Although I haven’t been made aware through any official channels, I have been getting several calls from concerned local activists that indicate we are going to be asked to house minor immigrants on Bexar County property. If this is being considered, I would like to take this time to voice my own concerns. I do not believe we should agree to house them, and I do not want to allow my deputies to be used in that capacity, as this crisis seems to show no signs of slowing down.

"From what I have seen, the children are not being kept in the best conditions, and there has been a long standing history for a lack of transparency with the media regarding the housing conditions DHS provides for undocumented migrants.

"I have no intention of allowing my deputies to become the front facing uniforms of this volatile issue. In light of our current manpower concerns, I just don’t see us having the manpower to assist, neither on duty nor off duty. In short, while I certainly sympathize with these children and hope that the federal government can find a long term solution, I just don’t see that exposing ourselves or our first responders to any number of pitfalls surrounding this crisis is the answer.

Respectfully,

Sheriff Javier Salazar"