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Defense Dep't looks to pitch tents for single adult migrants in Tucson, Yuma

The Defense Department will look at sites in Arizona as part of a plan to put up temporary housing for 7,500 adult migrants, including proposed tent camps in Tucson and Yuma.

Earlier this week, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan signaled that he approved a request from the Department of Homeland Security to have military personnel construct temporary housing for adult migrants as the agency struggles to manage rising numbers of people detained along the border. That includes the influx of Central Americans seeking asylum, with many families with children, and children traveling without parents or guardians. 

On May 9, DHS requested help to house adult migrants, and on late Wednesday, Pentagon officials said that they would set up temporary facilities to house "single adult male and female aliens," already processed by Customs and Border Protection and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The Pentagon will loan and erect tents on prepared land identified by DHS officials, reported the Washington Post. 

Over the next two weeks, the Defense Department will evaluate several sites along the border, to determine "the scope, cost, and timeline to construct temporary migrant housing facilities in Arizona and Texas," said Col. Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman. 

The site assessments will be completed near Tornillo, Donna, Laredo, and Del Rio in Texas, as well as Yuma and Tucson, Wilkinson said. 

"The military will not operate the facilities; this remains the responsibility of DHS," Wilkinson said. She did not know where the sites would be built, saying only that, "those details will be determined after the site assessments are completed."

More and more migrants have been entering the United States in recent months, straining a system that has been called a "crisis" by politicians and border officials for months. 

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In April, nearly 99,000 people were taken in custody by U.S. Border Patrol officials along the southwestern border, an increase of nearly 68 percent from a month earlier, and the highest numbers since April 2007. 

Nearly two-thirds of the people taken into custody by Border Patrol were either families with children, or children traveling alone, however, around 32,000 single adults also came into the United States. Overall, out of the 460,000 people who have been taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol, about 167,000 were single adults, according to CBP statistics. 

However, while the numbers of people coming across the border have spiked, the numbers of people declared "inadmissible" by officials at U.S. ports has actually fallen, decreasing nearly 30 percent from March to April. 

Overall, the numbers of single adults has increased 23 percent from fiscal 2019 to the same time period in 2018, but the move appears to be made because CBP struggles to deal with very large increases of family units, from Central America and Mexico, who are crossing the border and immediately seeking out Border Patrol agents. 

The number of families apprehended in Yuma Sector has nearly tripled, and Tucson Sector officials have said that the number of family units has increased 232 percent. In the two sectors, nearly 40,000 people have come as family units, and more than 7,000 unaccompanied children have entered the United States. 

This prompted Yuma Sector officials to announce Wednesday that apprehensions there had surpassed 50,000 people, and large groups continued to come into the sector, often wading along the Colorado River to enter the U.S. near San Luis, Arizona. 

In March, the Department of Health and Human Services also asked for Pentagon help to build housing, this time for as many as 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children, a request that the Defense Department agreed to a month later.

This comes even as HHS said it may expand holding around 2,000 children at a temporary holding facility near the Homestead Air Reserve Base near Miami, Florida. 

HHS previously operated a center for children in Tornillo, Texas, however, that closed in January, after a federal watchdog warned about "serious safety and health" problems at the remote facility. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A Border Patrol agent apprehends two 18-year-old boys near Lukeville, Arizona.

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