Military bases under consideration for housing unaccompanied migrant children

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis steps away after speaking with the media at the Pentagon Wednesday

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said that President Trump's administration "never really intended" to separate migrant families who cross the border without documentation.

The plan seemingly will have similarities to 2014, when the Obama administration housed about 7,000 unaccompanied children on three military bases.

The Pentagon began making preparations for the policy last month, The Washington Post reported.

When asked about the separation policy, Mattis directed questions to Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielson, with whom he said the Pentagon maintained close collaboration.

The White House responded to criticism by saying there was no hidden message.

"I'm not going to chime in from the outside", he said.

The Pentagon will make space available on military bases for as many as 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children detained after illegally crossing the U.S. -Mexico border, a spokesman said Thursday. "We do whatever is in the best interest of the country", he added, when asked if he would allow bases to house children.

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The move comes amid a growing political battle over the fate of detained illegal immigrants, including more than 2,000 children separated from parents and other adults who are awaiting prosecution for their border-jumping.

Indefinite detentions run afoul of the so-called Flores settlement, a 1997 agreement that has been interpreted by courts as meaning children can not be detained for more than 20 days.

Separately, the Defense Department is detailing 21 military attorneys to the Justice Department for up to six months to prosecute illegal immigrants, with a focus on misdemeanor improper entry and felony illegal reentry cases, the Pentagon confirmed on Thursday.

The fierce criticism forced Trump to backtrack and sign an executive order on Wednesday to keep families together in detention during immigration proceedings.

The Justice Department said the recent surge in the number of illegal border crossings by families had created a "destabilizing migratory crisis" that put those families at risk and threatened public safety. "It can not be done", the Justice Department said. It also sought an exemption from state licensing requirements for federal facilities that house the children.

Both bills have received backing from Trump but are opposed by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups.

Both House bills, backed by Trump but opposed by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, would fund the wall Trump has proposed along the United States border with Mexico and reduce legal migration, in part by denying visas for some relatives of U.S. residents and citizens living overseas.

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