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A former Basic Military Training facility at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland has become a temporary shelter for unaccompanied Central American minors who were caught illegally crossing into the United States.
The Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families has used the Recruit Housing and Training facility to house 1,820 children ages 12 to 17 while federal officials seek their relatives or sponsors, officials said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed U.S. Northern Command to provide temporary facilities for up to 120 days at Lackland and other bases, such as Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Naval Base Ventura County in California.
Lackland is only responsible for providing shelter, said Lt. Col Thomas Crosson, spokesman with the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“The agreement that the [Defense Department] has with HHS is that we will loan them the facility and HHS is responsible for operating it,” Crosson told Air Force Times.
If Lackland should provide any services or resources, HHS would reimburse the base, Crosson said.
Children receive a medical screening, vaccination and treatment for lice or scabies before arriving at Lackland. HHS is providing medical assistance, cafeteria services, laundry services, math and English training, and each child at the shelter has a cot and locker, according to an Air Force news release.
Caseworkers have also been called in to provide legal assistance.
Officials said 840 children had been released to vetted family members or sponsors as of June 3.
More than 90 percent of those sheltered are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, many driven north by pervasive violence and poverty in their home countries, The Associated Press reported. Children released to family members or sponsors are expected to appear at court proceedings.
The court will decide whether the child stays in the U.S. or is eventually sent home, the news release said.
Lackland’s facility can house up to 1,200 children at one time.