The Department of Defense said Wednesday that it has been asked by the government to house and care for a migrant "family population of up to 12,000 people," a request made as the Trump administration seeks to detain those caught illegally entering the United States.
The Defense Department said in a statement Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security requested space to house 2,000 people within 45 days and additional capacity will be added later.
The families would be housed at military facilities, preferably in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or California to comply with a court order that requires efforts be made to place minors near the region the majority are apprehended, the Defense Department said. Possible locations were not identified in Wednesday’s statement from the Pentagon.
The Defense Department said that it was asked to identify any of its facilities that could house 12,000 people, and if those spaces aren’t available it has been asked to build "semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities" capable of housing 4,000 people each at three separate locations.
More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents as a result of the "zero tolerance" policy, which was announced in by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April.
Amid fierce public outcry over the policy, President Donald Trump last week signed an executive order he said would end the separations at the border and instead allow families to be detained together, but the "zero tolerance" policy remains in effect.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday said that two military bases, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Fort Bliss, had been identified to house migrants, but then said that he couldn’t confirm the specifics of how those bases would be used.
The Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday that Customs and Border Protection had reunited more than 500 children separated under the "zero tolerance" policy with their parents.
As of Tuesday, 2,047 children were still separated from their parents and in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, according to officials.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly said that they know where all of the separated children are, but advocates and attorneys have described parents being unable to speak to or even locate their children for weeks after the separations.
Children cannot stay in detention facilities for longer than 20 days under most circumstances, based on limits set in the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement and subsequent court decisions. The Justice Department has asked for that time limit to be extended so that families can remain together in detention while awaiting court appearances.
The Associated Press, citing two Trump administration officials it did not identify, reported that funding for the request to the military about housing families was still being worked out. The facility will be staffed by Homeland Security officials and there will be no impact to training or military readiness, the officials said.
The request notes the space is for both men and women heads of households, said the officials, who were not authorized to release details of the request publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, according to the AP.
The Defense Department statement about the government’s request for space came a day after a federal judge in San Diego ordered immigration agents to stop separating migrant parents and children who have crossed the border from Mexico and reunite families who were already split up while in custody.
The judge, Dana Sabraw, ordered the government to reunify families with children under the age of 5 within 14 days, and families with children 5 years-old and older within 30 days.
Sabraw said in his ruling that "the facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance — responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government's own making."