EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska — The Trump administration has chosen an Army base and an Air Force base, both in Texas, to house detained migrants swept up in the federal government's crackdown on illegal immigration, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday.
Mattis said he could not confirm specifics, such as the number of migrants to be sheltered at Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base. He spoke to reporters in Alaska alongside Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican.
"We'll provide whatever support the Department of Homeland Security needs in order to house the people that they have under their custody," Mattis said. "We will work that out week by week, the numbers obviously are dynamic so we will have to stay flexible in our logistics support."
Mattis was in Alaska to visit Fort Greely, where the U.S. military maintains an arsenal of missiles designed to shoot down long-range ballistic missiles. Afterward he was heading to Beijing and then to Tokyo and Seoul.
The U.S. military has a long history of providing logistical support to people "escaping tyranny" or affected by natural disasters, Mattis said, explaining he recognized the "political aspects" of the situation along the southern border of the U.S.
"We provide logistics support, and we're not going to get into the political aspect," he said. "Providing housing, shelter for those who need it is a legitimate governmental function."
The number of detained migrants who might be held at Bliss and Goodfellow has not been announced, but the Pentagon had said last week that it had been asked to be prepared to shelter as many as 20,000 unaccompanied children.
The Pentagon had initially talked about four potential bases, but Mattis indicated the number is now two.
Two facilities in Arkansas had been considered to detain people arrested at the southern U.S. border: Little Rock Air Force Base and a former U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Kelso.
It wasn't clear if the selection of the Texas bases indicated the Arkansas locations would not be used. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Rep. French Hill and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, all Arkansas Republicans, had previously issued statements against holding the unaccompanied children in Arkansas.
In a statement Monday, the Little Rock Air Force Base acknowledged it was one of the bases considered for housing migrants. But the statement didn't indicate whether the central Arkansas base would be used in any capacity.
"[The Department of Health and Human Services] and [the Department of Defense] are working closely to determine the requirements and timing for support," the statement said. "Secretary Mattis' guidance has been clear: that the [Department of Defense] will support our federal partners."
One official said unaccompanied children detained after crossing the U.S. border would be sheltered at one of the bases — Bliss or Goodfellow — and the other base would house families of migrant detainees. Under the arrangement, the Defense Department would provide the land but the operations would be run by other agencies.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette staff members contributed to this story.