LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal agency said Monday it has no plans to use Fort Knox as a temporary shelter for migrant children, offering assurances after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul signaled that the Army post has been considered as a possible site to house some of the young immigrants pouring across the U.S. border with Mexico.
Paul told a business summit Monday that “it looks like” some of the unaccompanied migrants might end up at Fort Knox temporarily. Since October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers have entered the U.S. illegally — more than double compared to the same period a year earlier. Most have been from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
“What should be done is humanely feed, clothe and try to find the appropriate people to return them to their country,” the Kentucky Republican said. “But you need to do that, not because you’re heartless, but because you can’t send a signal to everyone in Central America that it’s OK to come.”
Paul spokesman Dan Bayens said the senator’s office was notified recently that the Army post in central Kentucky has been talked about as a potential place to provide shelter for some of the young migrants.
Paul’s remarks that Fort Knox was under consideration soon were disputed by the state’s only Democratic congressman, John Yarmuth.
“Congressman Yarmuth … today received confirmation from the Department of Health and Human Services that Fort Knox is not under consideration to house the children fleeing violence and arriving unaccompanied to the U.S.,” said his spokesman, Stephen George.
The health and human services agency makes the final decision on the sites, George said.
U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, a Republican whose district includes Fort Knox, later said he had received similar assurances.
“When I first heard the rumor about unaccompanied children going to Fort Knox, I immediately contacted Health and Human Services,” Guthrie said. “I was told that Fort Knox was looked at as an option, but it had already been removed from consideration. At this time, administration officials have assured my office that Fort Knox is not currently being considered to house these children.”
Health and Human Services spokesman Kenneth Wolfe confirmed the agency has no plans to use Fort Knox as a shelter for the migrant children.
A Pentagon spokesman said Monday that Fort Knox was initially on a short list of installations offered up by the military as possible sites. It was “kind of taken off the table” due to ROTC summer training, said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson.
Due to the training, it was determined the Kentucky Army post wouldn’t be available until at least September to house migrants, he said.
“One of our mandates is we’re not going to curtail or impact training or operations or readiness to accommodate this mission” of providing temporary housing to unaccompanied immigrants, Crosson said.
Three military installations — one each in Texas, California and Oklahoma — are being used to temporarily house some of the young migrants, he said. The three facilities combined house an average of 2,500 to 2,700 children daily, he said.
The Health and Human Services agency is responsible for their care, he said.
Organizations, communities and states also have offered to help with the humanitarian response, Wolfe said.
In some places around the country, some people have protested having the immigrants come to their towns.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress to authorize $3.7 billion in emergency spending to increase enforcement at the border, build more facilities to temporarily house the unaccompanied minors and beef up legal aid.
In his speech Monday, Paul said the country’s porous border is a big impediment to achieving immigration reform.
“I’m for more work visas, I’m for more legal immigration,” the potential 2016 presidential candidate said. “But you can’t set up forgiveness … without a secure border, or the whole world will come.”
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