Dear Secretary Mattis and Secretary Nielson:
We write to express strong opposition to the consideration of Naval Air Station Whiting Field's Naval Outlying Field (NOLF) Silverhill in Silverhill, Alabama and NOLF Wolf in Orange Beach, Alabama as detention facilities for illegal immigrants detained from the U.S. southern border as these locations cannot adequately meet the needs of housing and sustaining migrants.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has not formally asked the Department of Defense (DOD) for assistance to house migrants, it has come to our attention that DHS is working with DOD to develop a plan to house immigrants in temporary tent structures, including the possibility of using the above-mentioned sites.
These locations are undeveloped military airfields. They lack even basic infrastructure, such as running water, housing, or restroom facilities, to provide even rudimentary needs for detained immigrants. Given this lack of infrastructure, individuals would be housed in tents and potentially exposed to disease carrying insects that are prevalent in the coastal environment.
There are also serious natural hazards that should be taken into consideration at these sites. The Gulf Coast region is prone to severe weather including hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, thunder storms, severe heat waves, and high humidity. These natural hazards could present serious risks to those housed at these facilities, particularly to those housed in tent structures, as well as the personnel responsible for overseeing the facilities. Additionally, having to evacuate an additional 25,000 individuals from the airfields would place a further strain on what is already a complex hurricane evacuation system.
This is not the first time a proposal has been made to use these airfields to house illegal immigrants. In 2016, the Obama Administration ultimately abandoned a similar effort to use these sites after intense pushback from Congress and local officials. During that discussion, based upon similar arguments, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the annual Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill (H.R. 4974), which barred funds in the bill from being used to modify a military installation in the United States to provide temporary housing for unaccompanied alien children. H.R. 4974, with the amendment included, passed the House on May 19, 2016, by a bipartisan vote of 295 to 129.
It is our sincere hope that the Trump Administration will come to the same conclusion that these airfields are not a legitimate option to house illegal immigrants. To be clear, we look forward to working with the Trump Administration to ensure that our nation's immigration laws are fully enforced and to stem the flow of illegal immigrants at our nation's southern border. As we work together, we hope you can assure us that the naval airfields in Baldwin County will not be used to house illegal immigrants.