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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Airmen walk across the flight line to their C-130J on Jan. 7, 2018 at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

Federal officials are to tour Little Rock Air Force Base today to determine its suitability for holding people who have illegally entered the U.S., something the governor said he supports if it keeps children and parents together.

An Air Force base spokesman confirmed Wednesday morning that U.S. Department of Health and Human Services staff members would survey the Jacksonville base, located 17 miles northeast of Little Rock, to decide whether children from other countries could be kept there.

That was before President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that ended a policy of separating parents from their children when the families were caught crossing the southern U.S. border. Now, those families will be detained together. Existing Department of Defense facilities will be repurposed, upon request, to house those families, and the department will construct some facilities if necessary, according to the order.

Even with the policy change, the base tour is still set to take place, spokesman Staff Sgt. Regina Edwards said Wednesday afternoon. Trump's executive order and the tour received the governor's support.

"Let me just make it clear," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a phone interview. "I want to be helpful if we can help carry out the policy of keeping the families together."

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., said in a statement that he supports Trump's executive order to keep families together while their status is determined and that he's working with colleagues to provide a "permanent, compassionate solution" in the immigration crisis.

[FULL TEXT: Read Trump's executive order]

However, Hill added, "These children belong with their parents at the border, not hundreds of miles away at Little Rock Air Force Base or other locations in Arkansas."

In light of Trump's executive order, it was not clear whether federal officials would consider the Jacksonville base for holding minors who crossed the border alone or detained families, or both. A voice mail and email messages seeking comment from the Health and Human Services Department were not returned Wednesday.

Hutchinson stressed that today's visit is "preliminary," and nothing is decided.

The last time Hutchinson was in Washington, D.C., he spoke with leaders at the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees unaccompanied minors and children who are brought into the country illegally. The department leaders indicated that they were "continuing to have space needs" and might look at two facilities in Arkansas, Hutchinson said.

He declined to specify the other site besides Little Rock Air Force Base that's under consideration.

With Trump's executive order, facilities that can accommodate those families are needed, Hutchinson said.

"This is a very large logistical challenge, and if we can be helpful in supporting that policy, then we absolutely want to be helpful," he said.

Edwards, the Little Rock Air Force Base spokesman, said she couldn't describe what the tour would entail because "this one is absolutely something different."

"From the seven years that I've been here, we haven't had a tour like this," Edwards said.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the senator was not available to comment on the possibility of children being held at the air base. But "bottom line, Cotton opposes this," spokesman James Arnold said in an email.

Before Trump signed the order, state Rep. Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock, said in a statement that he "cannot fathom needlessly separating a child from their mother or father."

"I cannot support using the Little Rock Air Force Base to implement this shameful policy," he said.

When reached by phone after the executive order was signed, Tucker said he hopes the possibility of detaining children or families at the Air Force base "would not be necessary, at this point." Tucker, who is Hill's Democratic opponent in the November election, added that Trump's change of mind was the "right thing to do."

Before Trump's reversal Wednesday -- something he'd previously insisted that he couldn't do -- social media had been flooded with images of children held in cages at border facilities. Texas news outlets reported on a "tent city" erected on a military base to hold the children, 2,300 of whom had been separated from their parents, officials said Tuesday.

Though Trump's decision was heralded by some as a move in the right direction, the executive order angered immigration rights advocates.

The order asks the attorney general to modify a long-standing immigration agreement so that families who cross the border illegally can be detained throughout the criminal proceedings or until some other decision is made on their statuses.

The long-standing agreement, called the Flores settlement, requires the federal government to release children from custody to their parents, adult relatives or other caretakers. Immigration rights activists say Trump's order allows for indefinite detention of children.

[U.S. immigration: Data visualization of selected immigration statistics, U.S. border map]

Richard Yada, a retired Little Rock accountant and financial adviser, knows about indefinite detention. The 74-year-old was born in the Rohwer internment camp in Desha County. During World War II, the Rohwer camp was one of 10 sites selected to incarcerate more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans.

Trump's family separation policy had been compared, by some, to that period in American history.

Yada said he'd been thinking about that comparison. He observed the current public outcry. Then he thought about the silence he heard in 1942, when no one spoke up about the Japanese internments, he said.

One day, Yada said, he will probably "wake up and smell the roses." As for right now, "All I can say is, 'Where were they when I needed you?'"

Metro on 06/21/2018

Print Headline: U.S. officials to size up air base as detainee site

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  • DoubleBlind
    June 21, 2018 at 7:03 a.m.

    The executive order Trump signed yesterday does not speak to any families that have already been separated -- and existing policies place the onus on parents to find their children in Department of Health and Human Services custody and seek to reunite with them. This means the LRAFB could in fact still be used to house only children and not their parents. I suspect Hutchinson will have quite a protest on his hands if he lets that happen here. I’m guessing the second, undisclosed location in AR is Ft. Chaffee or some shuttered WalMart.

  • Mongo419
    June 21, 2018 at 9 a.m.

    This country's capacity for locking people up versus it's willingness to feed, educate, provide healthcare, and house even it's own veterans never ceases to amaze me. This here "Christian" and "humane" country. This, this right here is the reason people turn their noses up at Americans around the world.

  • LRCrookAttorney
    June 21, 2018 at 9:36 a.m.

    Mongo...So, close all prisons and distribute that money to all of the illegals? Sounds like a great plan.

  • FireEyes
    June 21, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.

    They came here ILLEGALLY. Ship them back to their point of origin!!!! To move them anywhere else is a massive waste of money and a backdoor to them staying and sapping yet more of our resources. They aren't here to become citizens. They're here for a free ride!!!

  • abb
    June 21, 2018 at 11:52 a.m.

    Give them parachutes. Drop them back in Mexico and Central America with a rifle, some ammo, an MRE and a MMGA hat (Make Mexico Great Again). They want a prosperous country? Gotta fight to make it that way. Good luck!

  • DoubleBlind
    June 21, 2018 at 12:14 p.m.

    Trumptards - If you devoted a small percentage of the efforts and energy you currently plow into blind Trump worship, racism and xenophobia, instead to addressing the root causes of illegal immigration, you could solve the problem. But you’re too stupid, emotional and manipulable. You leave cheese out everywhere, you’ll have hungry mice in your house. But instead of putting the cheese away - which would be the smart, logical thing to do - you just want to set more traps and spread more poison, which gets some of the mice but will never solve the root cause of your mouse problem. You’re a bunch of morons.

  • GeneralMac
    June 21, 2018 at 12:20 p.m.

    As a Navy draftee, I served in a Navy C-130 Transport squadron for 1 year, 5 months.

    abb is correct !

    Fill the plane with ILLEGALS and do cargo drops flying over their country of origin.
    Configuring the C-130 for parachute cargo drops would be a better idea than configuring it for troop drops as they might refuse to jump.

    A "_4 " configuration works well for cargo drops.

    " skate wheel rollers" would be option #2 for parachuting ILLEGALS back into their country of origin.

  • GeneralMac
    June 21, 2018 at 12:24 p.m.

    DoubleBlind...........When Alabama tried to curb ILLEGALS from flocking there, they proposed E-Verify be mandatory for EMPLOYERS .

    Barack HUSSEIN Obama ( the Muslim sympathizer and ILLEGALS' defender) stated he was OPPOSED to E-VERIFY.

    Selective memory, DoubleBlind ?

  • railtoler
    June 21, 2018 at 12:56 p.m.

    Thank you Mr. Tucker for your guts to stand up for human beings. You will have my vote. I think it’s funny NOW that GOP actors now want to express their humane feelings.
    Because if not for backlash they still be supporting those Neo Nazis who took over GOP!!!!

    It’s illegal to use LRAFB for those animalistic
    Plans of Neo Nazis. Anyone connected with that crap will have their name posted every day for eternity. Go to church and explain your blind allegiance to this insane idiot traitor.

    Jesus H. Christ people. Go back to taking lobbyists money and leave the country in peace. God knows what you morons are doing. We sick of it.

    Human Race

  • DoubleBlind
    June 21, 2018 at 1:02 p.m.

    GM - He may have voiced opposition but never changed the law. Even if he had, Trumptards have worked overtime to overturn everything he ever did. It’s typically lame that you try to blame Obama for Trump’s failure to enforce a law on the books.