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Fort Benning will not house undocumented immigrant kids, federal government says

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The political frenzy is heightening over a so-called migrant caravan heading toward the U. S., but who are the people making the grueling journey? We spent 24 hours with a family as they trekked through Mexico for an up-close view of what’s at stake.

Fort Benning will not house migrant children, federal officials said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said that the military installation was no longer available to shelter the children.

“The Department of Defense is an exemplary partner and we look forward to their continued collaboration as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) develops efficient, cost-effective strategies to address temporary shelter needs for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC),” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Fort Benning DoD property in Fort Benning, GA is no longer available for use to provide temporary shelter for unaccompanied alien children.”

The decision came less than a week after defense and HHS officials visited Fort Benning to assess what buildings or land on base could be used to potentially house thousands of undocumented immigrant children.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security reported that in 2019, almost 110,000 migrants had attempted to enter the U.S. illegally in April, and the vast majority were families or unaccompanied children. For comparison 51,000 total tried to enter the U.S. illegally in April 2018.

These children are ages 17 and under who are unaccompanied by parents or legal guardians and who have no lawful immigration status in the United States.

Many Columbus officials had said they supported the children coming to Fort Benning if it were to happen.

HHS officials also ruled out Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base as a site to house the migrants. Oklahoma’s Fort Sill will be used. They have space for approximately 1,400, HHS officials said.

“ All children will be sheltered in hard sided structures at Fort Sill,” the spokesperson said in a release. “Semi-permanent soft sided structures will be used for support operations.”

HHS may also use New Mexico’s Santa Teresa Land Port of Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection site, to provide temporary shelter for the children. Federal officials will conduct a site assessment. If selected, Santa Teresa would remain unoccupied but available for use if there is an urgent need for additional shelter space, the spokesperson said.

This is not the first time military bases have been used to house unaccompanied migrant children who crossed into the U.S. illegally.

Between 2012 and 2017, almost 16,000 unaccompanied children were similarly held at Texas’ Fort Bliss and Lackland Air Force Base; Fort Sill; Naval Base Ventura County in California and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

McClatchy DC reporter Tara Copp contributed to this report.

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