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Cole Offers Amendment to Prohibit Use of Military Bases to House Illegal Unaccompanied Minors

June 19, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) offered an amendment yesterday to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2015 on the House floor. The amendment responded to the Administration’s inappropriate use of military bases, including Fort Sill in Lawton, for housing illegal unaccompanied minors. 

I want to be the first to acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, that this legislation may not indeed be the appropriate place at which to address the issue raised in the amendment. But I do believe the amendment is an appropriate way to highlight a problem that simply must be addressed by the president and by the Congress. 

In recent weeks, there have been many news accounts reporting that we have had an explosion of unaccompanied juveniles coming and crossing our borders largely from Central America, from the countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This population has overwhelmed the facilities that normally house people that have entered our country illegally, and military facilities have now been used—pressed into service—to deal with this population. In full disclosure, one of those facilities happens to be in my district—Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, the home of the field artillery. But other facilities have also been used; at Ventura, at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, in the state of Washington and still others are being considered. 

I’m concerned about this for three reasons. First, these military facilities are absolutely inappropriate places to house this particular population. They’re not designed for that purpose, they’re not equipped for it, they’ve gotten very little notification of it; it’s simply the wrong place to put folks. You don’t bring outsiders onto a military installation, who have no business being there, and in addition also their caretakers. 

Second, while much of the expense will be picked up by other various departments of government, it will inevitably cause some expense and some inconvenience to the Department of Defense at a time when we have a very strained military budget. 

And lastly, while we’re told that these facilities are going to be used only on a temporary, emergency basis, there is indeed the risk that they could become permanent—something I think that would create a confusion of missions on military bases and ought to be avoided. 

We need to address the cause of the flow, not simply manage the flow better, and we shouldn’t use military facilities in that process. The Administration says that this flow of unaccompanied juveniles—which by the way was 6,000 two years ago, is 66,000 now and is projected to reach 120,000 to 150,000 within the next couple of years—is the result of a humanitarian crisis. I would submit it’s actually the result of a policy failure. 

We’re essentially incentivizing the flow of this population by not returning the unaccompanied juveniles to their countries of origin quickly. Indeed, once they arrive in the United States, we try to find sponsors for them in this country, and they effectively stay here permanently. That’s not what we do, by the way, with Mexican juveniles. If you’re a 16-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, we return you immediately, and we’ve had no similar spike in that particular population coming across the border. 

What we’re doing may appear to be humane to the juveniles in question; it’s actually not. First, we’re disrupting the countries from which they come; we are destabilizing those populations by incentivizing this flow. 

Second, these young people don’t just walk across Mexico. They’re transported by cartels. It’s criminals—the same people that bring drugs into our country—and they’re making an enormous amount of money, and we’re strengthening them by incentivizing this flow. 

Finally, the young people themselves are at enormous risk during the process of transportation. They’re being brought across the length of a country—Mexico—in the company of criminal elements—very unsavory elements—and they’re very much at risk. 

So I think we need to stop using military facilities for this purpose and to, frankly, begin to return people to the country of origin. In my view, that would actually stop the flow and remove the incentive to come.