Military Readiness Chairman Questions DoD/HHS Deal to House Illegal-Immigrant Kids at Bases

The chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee said he emerged from a briefing today unsure about the use of Defense Department facilities to house illegal immigrants.

The briefing, "Use of DoD Facilities to House Undocumented Aliens," focused on the Pentagon's agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services to house unaccompanied children at military installations.

“One thing is clear today after this briefing: DoD cannot be certain how long this mission will continue," subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said in a statement afterward. "And despite the DoD’s assurances, I remain concerned that the DoD’s commitment to this potentially long-term mission could have significant implications for our overall readiness posture and the general capacity of our armed forces."

"I also have significant concerns that our men and women in uniform are being tasked with an enduring mission for which they are unprepared, untrained, and ill-equipped," Wittman added. "During a time of significant danger around the world and tight budgets, this is a serious risk.”

The Obama administration is struggling to deal with an influx of children crossing the border at a rate of 39,000 in fiscal year 2013 and more than 47,000 in just the first two-thirds of fiscal year 2014.

Bases to be used to house illegal-immigrant children under the DoD/HHS agreement at the cost of about $500,000 per month include Lackland AFB in Texas, Army base Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, and Naval Base Ventura County in California. Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington may be added to the list.

Wittman said he is "concerned for the safety and welfare of these children, who are being housed in a system that is ill-equipped to handle them, with multiple agencies and departments essentially sharing responsibility."

"At the same time, we must keep in mind the surrounding communities who may be affected. Our witness today asserted that the communities were comfortable with the situation, but was unable to explain the nature of any discussions with these localities. This is not acceptable," he said.

That includes conversations with base commanders and assessments of how it will affect the DoD's core mission, the congressman said.

“As we move forward, it is absolutely critical that DoD help this committee further understand this decision, including contingency plans in case of necessary posture changes, the long-term nature and duration of DoD involvement, and the ramifications of this mission on our force readiness," said Wittman. "The number of UAC has increased exponentially in recent years and could continue to rise, and I fear the precedent that this decision could set."

"DoD should have consulted with Congress before committing its resources to this mission, and I will continue to push for answers. On a broad level, too, this entire situation highlights the necessity of securing our borders and upholding our existing laws."