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Concerns about troop readiness at Fort Benning prompted the decision against temporarily housing migrant children who tried to cross the border at the army installation.
A Department of Defense spokesperson (DoD) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday that readiness concerns prompted federal officials to remove Benning from the list.
“It was pulled from the list over concerns over potential readiness impacts,” Maj. Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesman, told the AJC.
The meaning of “troop readiness” was unclear. Mitchell did not respond to a Ledger-Enquirer reporter Wednesday afternoon before publication. Attempts to contact Fort Benning spokespersons were unsuccessful.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families announced Tuesday that Benning and Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base would not house migrant children.
Oklahoma’s Fort Sill will be made ready to house up to 1,400 children in “hard-sided” structures, according to an HHS spokesperson. Federal officials are also assessing if a U.S. Customs and Border Protection site in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, could house the migrants.
The decision came a week after HHS and DoD officials toured Fort Benning. Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson said he was notified Tuesday afternoon of the federal government’s decision not to use the nearby military installation. The e-mail didn’t specify why Benning wasn’t chosen, he said.
In a previous interview with the L-E, Henderson said he would provide support to Benning if the base had been selected to house the children.
Henderson said the city was not making specific plans to deal with potential protestors but said the city has had experience with protests at Benning before.
“We just, frankly, were there to support Fort Benning with whatever they were asked to do,” he said. “They’re always there when we need them, and we try to be there if there’s an opportunity to provide any assistance to them.”
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. The federal government announced last week that it was cutting English classes, recreational activities and legal aid for minors living in migrant shelters, USA Today reported.
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.