A Pentagon spokesman told VOA on Friday that all of the paperwork had been completed for Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas to start building detention facilities for unaccompanied minors caught illegally crossing the southern U.S. border, "if needed."
That paperwork includes an environmental assessment of the base grounds and memorandums of understanding from both the Pentagon and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) detailing how the base will be used and secured, said the spokesman, Army Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis.
Last month, HHS asked the U.S. military to prepare to shelter thousands of undocumented migrants, including as many as 20,000 children, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested the erection of tents at three separate facilities for up to 4,000 people.
The Pentagon offered Goodfellow for HHS to hold unaccompanied minors and Fort Bliss, also in Texas, for DHS to hold detained families.
As of June, at least 11,800 "unaccompanied minor children" were in custody at about 100 shelters in 14 states, according to HHS. Some of those were separated from their parents after the implementation of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy of detaining all undocumented border-crossers.
The administration will not need Goodfellow until shelter beds are projected to fill up. If that happens, HHS will need to send a "letter of intent" to the Pentagon, which would then give the military 45 days to complete construction of detention facilities at Goodfellow.
In June, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 5,115 children and 28,999 adults were detained at the southern US border.
"If HHS submits a letter of intent, that is when the facilities will be built, but until that happens, we won't build anything," Pentagon spokesman Davis told VOA.