The U.S. military is prepared to provide housing for men, women and children detained for trying to enter the country illegally along the country’s southwestern border.
The executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday calls for the U.S. secretary of defense to “take all legally available measures” to provide housing for the immigrants either at existing facilities or at facilities to be constructed if needed.
“We support DHS [Department of Homeland Security],” Mattis told reporters earlier in the day, before a meeting at the Pentagon with the German defense minister.
“This is their lead,” he added. “We’ll respond if requested.”
Four installations considered
Already, four military installations, three in Texas and one in Arkansas, are being considered as possible locations for housing house children detained at the border.
Pentagon officials say that so far, the facilities at Fort Bliss, Dyess Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas and at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas have been assessed only as potential sites and that no final determination has been made.
They also say that if the sites are used, the military would not be responsible for providing security or other services.
Mattis noted this would not be the first time the military has been asked to help house civilians.
“We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes,” he told reporters. “We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.”
No direct military role
The Pentagon has not played a direct role in addressing the situation along the country’s border with Mexico, though it has facilitated the deployment of National Guard forces to border states.
Those troops have been helping with some aerial surveillance, logistics and infrastructure support but have not been carrying out any patrols and have not been making any arrests.
In a symbolic protest against the president’s initial “zero-tolerance” policy of separating children from their families, the governors of almost a dozen U.S. state announced they would be recalling their National Guard units.
Asked if those withdrawals had made any impact on the National Guard’s mission at the border, Mattis said, “Not right now, no.”