An amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill offered by Rep. Bradley Byrne to prohibit the department from using funds to modify military installations to provide temporary housing for unaccompanied illegal alien children in the United States received House approval on Thursday.
Byrne’s amendment was approved by the House with a 223 to 198 vote and will now go before the Senate.The amendment would limit the federal government’s ability to house children apprehended at the United States southern border in a pair of airfields in the Baldwin County communities of Silverhill and Josephine. The airfields are being considered as sites to potentially host up to 2,000 children under age 17 in “semipermanent” shelters. According to HHS, roughly 90 percent of the children apprehended at the Southern border come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“I’m pleased the House passed my amendment to make clear there are better places to house illegal migrant children than our nation’s military facilities,” Byrne said in a statement to media. “It simply makes no sense to place these children so close to military activities like Navy aircraft training or live firing ranges.
“I especially hope the passage of my amendment sends a message to the Obama administration that they should not bring these children to Navy airfields in Baldwin County,” Byrne continued. “Doing so would put the children at risk while also compromising military readiness.”
HHS has maintained the semipermanent structures would only be used if the department were to experience a “substantial” increase in the number of unaccompanied children. The department currently has 8,700 beds in its “shelter network” and an additional 2,000 beds on reserve if needed. Some reserve beds are already available at the Homestead Job Corps Center in Homestead, Fla.
In a speech on the House floor Wednesday night, Byrne said the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement plan to use the Baldwin County airfields “makes no sense” and poses serious safety issues for the children.
Baldwin County Commissioner Chris Elliott applauded Byrne’s effort but said the county will remain vigilant in the situation.
“This will stop them from using defense funds to do this, but the federal government has a lot of deep pockets it can pull from,” Elliott said.
According to HHS, the unaccompanied children are housed in the semipermanent shelters as they are processed through the immigration court system before their eventual release from the program when the federal government connects them with a family member or close family friend who can serve as a guardian. Typically, children remain in the program an average of 30 days.