San Diego County could become a site where tens of thousands of migrants would be housed indefinitely by the U.S. government under the zero-tolerance immigration policy implemented by President Trump.
According to a report published Friday by Time magazine, military leaders are drawing up plans to create a tent city at Camp Pendleton to detain as many as 47,000 migrants from Central America and other locations.
The facility at Camp Pendleton would be one of several temporary detention centers.
According to an internal memo obtained by Time, the U.S. Navy has been directed to establish “temporary and austere” encampments on military installations in Alabama, Arizona and California that each could host tens of thousands of detainees.
The document, prepared by an assistant secretary for approval by Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, suggests construction could begin within 60 days. The structures would be designed to last for six months to one year.
The memo has not yet been approved by Spencer or Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the report said.
The plans match the executive order Trump signed this week in response to growing political pressure to halt the separation of parents and children crossing the southern border illegally.
The order does not end the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance program that aims to prosecute all illegal border crossings. Rather, it calls for families to be housed together in detention facilities instead of separated while parents go through the criminal court system for illegal entry and then immigration proceedings.
The order says immigration courts should prioritize detained-family cases, but it will still probably take longer than the 20 days the government is allowed to hold children in detention, even if they are held with their families.
Officials at Camp Pendleton said they know nothing about the project.
“Camp Pendleton is unaware of any plan to house detainees on our base,” Capt Luke Weaver said in a statement.
The detainment plan estimates the Navy would spend more than $230 million to build and run a single facility serving 25,000 people for a six-month term.
Advocates who work with San Diego immigrant communities were stunned by the Time report.
“I think it’s a mistake to suggest that housing families in austere temporary Navy bases is a solution to the humanitarian needs of people seeking asylum,” Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee San Diego office, said Friday. “The possibility that families will be held indefinitely is a clear violation of human rights standards.”
Elizabeth Lopez, an immigration attorney with the Southern California Immigration Project, expressed concerns about legal proceedings.
“I doubt the government is going to transport them to court, so they will have to build video conference rooms to be able to have hearings,” she said, adding: “It is going to be a nightmare to allow the attorneys onto Pendleton to visit our clients.”
Immigration attorney Ginger Jacobs said she was “concerned about the extremely high expense of these camps. It looks like it would take approximately $500 million to house people at Camp Pendleton for only a six-month time period. That is an enormous waste of government resources. It would be far less expensive to allow the asylum-seekers to live in their own communities with GPS monitor ankle bracelets on, so ICE can keep track of their whereabouts.”
Peter K. Nunez, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said he favors as many different detention spaces in as many different places as needed to enforce the law.
“If they can create temporary detention facilities at Camp Pendleton or any other military base that are adequate to the housing needs, then certainly we can do that,” he said.
According to Time, a similar facility would be established at the former Naval Weapons Station Concord, east of San Francisco. It, too, would be constructed to hold as many as 47,000 people.
Other facilities that are expected to house 25,000 immigrants would be established at abandoned airfields outside Mobile, Ala. The memo also proposes studying the Marine Corps air station in Yuma, Ariz., as a possible site.
McDonald and Morrissey write for the San Diego Union-Tribune.