Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Military and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill Passes House

May 20, 2016
Representative Roby's Weekly Column

This past week the House passed the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill. This 81.6 billion legislation provides resources for military training, equipment and services, as well as base maintenance and infrastructure. The bill also funds veterans’ benefits and programs, including the Veterans Administration (VA). As a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that crafts this key bill, I was pleased to see it approved by the full House and get one step closer to becoming law.

Appropriations bills afford Congress the opportunity to effect needed policy changes by putting certain conditions on funding. Among the many important provisions the House included in this bill were:

  • restricting the use of funds to close Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and transfer detained terrorists to a stateside facility;
  •  spurring improvement in the VA electronic health record system by restricting funding until certain milestones are met;
  • stopping taxpayer-funded rewards and bonuses from going to under-performing VA employees.

Also of particular significance to Alabama, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill includes a provision prohibiting funding from being used to house illegal immigrant minors at military bases. As you may recall, I have repeatedly made the case for why housing minors detained at the border at active military bases like Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base is a bad idea.

Late last year when my office was notified that Maxwell-Gunter was again on a list of possible sites to house detained immigrant minors, I immediately contacted the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services (HHS) to explain how unwise such an action would be. I also met personally with officials from the Office of Refugee Resettlement and publicly questioned HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell at a Congressional hearing to convey my strong objections.

Active military bases with important missions are no place to house the minors detained at the border. At Maxwell-Gunter, missions include training, education and cyber activities, many times in classified settings that are very sensitive. I have no doubt that housing and securing hundreds of immigrants would negatively impact missions and become an unnecessary distraction.  Should there be another influx of minors at the border, authorities should look to non-military facilities to keep them while they await deportation. More importantly, the Obama Administration should be doing more to discourage Central American minors from making the perilous journey in the first place.

By prohibiting funds from being used to house illegal immigrant minors on military bases, this House-passed Appropriations bill seeks to effectively stop this ill-advised decision before it happens. Of course, the bill has more steps to take before being enacted. I look forward to working with the Senate to iron out any differences between our versions of the bill and sending it toward final passage.