LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Fort Knox is not under consideration to house some of the flood of undocumented child immigrants apprehended in recent months on the U.S. Mexico border, the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed on Monday afternoon, hours after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul suggested the opposite to a Louisville audience.
"They're actually going to be shipping them, it looks like to Ft. Knox," Paul told the Kentucky Chamber Business Summit in a ballroom of the downtown Marriott hotel. "Some of them are coming to Ft. Knox."
Yet, in a statement to WHAS11 News, a Health and Human Services Department spokesman said Ft. Knox was not under consideration.
"HHS’ Administration for Children and Families has no plans to use Fort Knox as a temporary Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelter," said Kenneth J. Wolfe, Deputy director, Office of Public Affairs.
Despite the HHS statement, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed that Ft. Knox was on a "short list" of military installations identified as potential destinations for the unaccompanied minors, yet the final decision where to locate the children would be made by the Department of Health and Human Services.
The U.S. Border Patrol says more than 57,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October. Three-fourths of them are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
In May, federal agencies including the Defense Department were asked to identify potential facilities to house the children after they are transitioned from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
A Pentagon spokesman told WHAS11 that the Fort Knox facilities are currently being used by ROTC Cadets but the Health and Human Services Department can still decide whether Ft. Knox should be used after the cadets leave in September.
"Ft. Knox is on a list of bases that we could potentially offer Health and Human Services for them to carry out their unaccompanied child mission," said Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman. "The base is not available though until September. Once the facility becomes vacant, and it is no longer in use and is projected not to be in use, then we could offer HHS the building and then they can conduct their review to see if it meets their needs."
Paul's comments triggered a lot of questions. Quizzed about them after the speech, he was less definitive.
"I've just been hearing about it," Paul told WHAS11. "I can't confirm to you it's actually going to happen. I think there's rumblings that Ft. Knox would be a location for some of these kids."
Asked if that was an appropriate use of the Kentucky military post, Paul focused on deporting the children.
"I think that these kids should be treated humanely, fed, clothed and sent back to their country of origin," he said. "And I am a welcoming person. I want people to come to our country but they have to come, legally."
Ft. Knox is in Kentucky's Second Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R).
“When I first heard the rumor about unaccompanied children going to Fort Knox, I immediately contacted Health and Human Services," Guthrie said in a statement. "I was told that Fort Knox was looked at as an option, but it had already been removed from consideration. At this time, Administration officials have assured my office that Fort Knox is not currently being considered to house these children, but we continue to be in regular communication with HHS."
The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed opposition to housing the children at Ft. Knox.
"Senator McConnell strongly believes that we should secure the border, treat the children humanely and return them immediately," said Robert Steurer, a Mcconnell spokesman. "Therefore, these children should not be housed indefinitely throughout the U.S."
The confusion after Paul's comments led the office of U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth to issue an advisory to reporters reiterating that the Health and Human Services Department had confirmed to Yarmuth’s office on Monday that Fort Knox is not under consideration.
"The Department of Defense previously submitted Fort Knox to HHS as part of a list of possible locations with the capacity to house the kids," said Stephen George, Yarmuth's Communications Director, "but again, that decision is left to HHS, which has confirmed it is not considering Fort Knox."
WHAS11, however, was unable to reach the Health and Human Services Department to inquire whether Ft. Knox might again be considered after the ROTC cadets leave.