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Local Military Leader Joins Critique Of Pentagon's Plan For Migrant Detention

Burrell Parmer
Contributed Photo

This week, more than 20 retired U.S. military officers sent a public letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis expressing concern about a plan to house thousands of migrant children and families on military bases in Texas and Arkansas.

The letter urges Mattis to keep the stay of migrants on military bases as short as possible, while maintaining the highest possible living standards. It also said long periods of detainment would drain resources from core military functions and hurt readiness.

Acting in an unofficial capacity, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala of San Antonio signed the letter. Ayala now works with the City Office of Military Affairs, but previously served as the inspector general of the Marine Corps.

When asked for further comment, Ayala said, “The letter speaks for itself.”

READ | A public letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis 

In June, the Pentagon said it would build tent camps to house people who cross the southern border illegally. Migrant families taken into custody were to be housed at Fort Bliss outside El Paso, while unaccompanied children would be housed at Goodfellow Air Force Base near San Angelo.

The officers’ response letter comes as both bases begin to fulfill administrative requirements for building the shelters.

According to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, each base has had to obtain a land permit, an environmental assessment, and a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Homeland Security.

Goodfellow Air Force Base has completed that paperwork, but construction can’t begin yet.

“It is still up to the Department of Health and Human Services to send out a letter of intent,” Davis said. “So far, that has not happened.”

Federal officials are still analyzing the legal framework for the use of Fort Bliss.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame

Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.