Baldwin officials head to DC to fight immigrant relocation proposal


Baldwin County Commissioners Tucker Dorsey and Chris Elliott and Sheriff Hoss Mack departed Baldwin County Wednesday for Washington DC, where the trio lobbied federal officials to try to end a proposal to set up camps for illegal immigrants at two abandoned airfields in the county.

An internal document from the Department of Defense leaked last week that showed the U.S. Navy has plans to build tent cities to house immigrants at Naval Outlying Field Wolf in Orange Beach and Naval Outlying Field Silverhill that could house up to 25,000 illegal migrants.

Elliott said the group planned to meet with Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security officials, as well as with Congressman Bradley Byrne and Senator Richard Shelby, to plead the county’s case as to why the sites in Baldwin County were unsuitable for the proposal.

“I’m not trying to insert the county into an immigration debate,” Elliott said. “This argument is about the suitability of these two location for the housing of 25,000 illegal immigrants. It was a bad idea two years ago, and it’s still a bad idea. The facts clearly showed that two years ago. We want to show the decision makers that we remained committed to our opposition to this idea.”

Dorsey said there were numerous reasons to oppose the proposal.

“The public has again been overwhelmingly supportive of us fighting against this as a solution for housing asylum seekers in Alabama,” Dorsey said. “The logistics don’t work and, this time, it is a significantly larger number of people, and, if here, they would not be close to the court system that they are processed through. The threat and danger posed by hurricanes, the lack of infrastructure and police protection issues have all been argued about why these sites are unsuitable before, and we’re going to be making the same arguments again in person this time.”

The proposal echoes an effort that county leaders fought off in 2016, when the Office of Refugee Resettlement looked to possibly house up to 2,000 illegal immigrant minors at the same fields.

“I don’t want to be rude, and us Southerners pride ourselves on being welcoming and hospitable, but I want to be clear about this and I apologize if this seems rude — but I want to make sure that I go ahead and state for the record: you’re not welcome,” Elliott said back in June of 2016. “We’re not interested in having these facilities here. We don’t think that the infrastructure is there to support them. We think that you are going to screw up our evacuation plans and our evacuation protocols, and we’d rather you find another place. I understand you have a job to do, but we think these sites are wholly unsuited for what you propose them for.”

Dorsey also spoke bluntly during the 2016 showdown.

“I have not had a single issue that as generated as much activity as this with regards to the temporary shelters at these outlying fields,” Dorsey said. “We are asking a lot of questions because we want to know. There aren’t really a lot of answers that you can provide that can make us feel comfortable about what you’re doing to our community. We 205,000 stand firm against not wanting this located in our county.”

Elliott started a petition earlier this week that had gathered nearly 4,500 signatures as of mid-day Wednesday.

Portions of the petition read as follows:

“Many of the same issues that led to the ultimate rejection of these sites two years ago remain today. There is a lack of critical infrastructure at these facilities to include water, power, and sewage. Even assuming a large contingent of federal law enforcement would accompany such a facility, local law enforcement would be significantly burdened dealing with illegal immigrants facing deportation that would almost certainly attempt escape. The economic and environmental impact to our community could be staggering particularly near these facilities.  Both facilities are located in areas subject to the impacts of hurricanes.  OLF Wolf, in particular, is situated very near the coast and would likely be under mandatory evacuation orders in even a Category 1 storm.  Planning for and affecting evacuations of these facilities would be a herculean task.  Baldwin County is the fastest growing county in the state with infrastructure that it already taxed.  The roadways in these areas are unsuited for the ingress and egress of 25,000 illegal immigrants.  An additional 25,000 residents along with the support personnel necessary to guard, feed, educate, process and care for these individuals would only serve to further tax our system.   

“Lastly, the Baldwin County Commission has an existing contract with the United States Navy to utilize OLF Silverhill as a staging ground for hurricane preparedness, response, and recovery.  This site is our primary post disaster staging area for National Guard, power company, and Emergency Management. The DoD/DHS plan will interfere with our Emergency Operation Plans and, just at the beginning of hurricane season, will leave our community unprepared and unequipped in the event of a major hurricane to deal with such a disaster.  In light of these concerns and restated issues, we ask that you carefully review and reconsider the implication of such an action for our community.” 

Byrne said he looked forward to working with the trio of county leaders to help fight back against the proposal again.

“We have successfully fought efforts to house illegal immigrants in Baldwin County before, and we will do the same again because the proposal makes no sense,” Byrne said. “Housing anyone in tents on the Gulf Coast during the heat of summer and the heart of hurricane season would be inhumane and a major mistake. I am committed to working with our local officials to fight back against this misguided idea. The whole issue just underscores why it is so important we secure our borders and crack down on illegal immigration.”

On June 26, Byrne lead a group of colleagues from Alabama and Florida in sending a letter to urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to halt efforts to house illegal immigrants at the airfields.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, the members of Congress outlined why the lack of infrastructure at the airfields and the unique coastal environment make the sites completely unacceptable for housing.

The letter was signed by Representatives Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Gary Palmer (R-AL), Martha Roby (R-AL), and Mike Rogers (R-AL).

“I appreciate my Alabama and Florida colleagues joining me to express our serious concerns about any proposal to house illegal immigrants in Baldwin County,” Byrne said. “I am hopeful our concerns will be taken seriously and this flawed idea will be taken off the table, just like it was back in 2016.”

The letter read:

“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.”

Baldwin County’s state legislative delegation (Sens. Greg Albritton and Trip Pittman; Reps. Steve McMillan, Randy Davis, Joe Faust, Thomas Jackson, Harry Shiver and Alan Baker) sent a letter to Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement to voice their opposition to the plan.

The letter read:

“The Baldwin County Alabama Legislative Delegation is strongly opposed to any proposal to use the Navy's Silverhill and Wolf fields as temporary housing for migrants and/or children of migrants.

“Right now, federal officials are looking for sites to be used for temporary housing if the number of immigrants exceeds the housing now available. The number of immigrants caught coming across the border is increasing.

“The two Baldwin sites are among the locations being studied around the country to house the excess.

“Security is one of the main concerns expressed by local leaders and residents. The two airfields are several hundred acres in size and surrounded only by a low fence.

“Sheriff Hoss Mack asked if Baldwin officials could look over security arrangements at other facilities before any immigrants were housed in this area.

“Federal, state, and county officials said the local airfields have no housing, power, water or sewer or other infrastructure services needed to house hundreds of migrants.
“Hurricane evacuation is another issue. The Wolf Field site in Josephine is two miles from the Gulf of Mexico; both of these sites have been directly impacted by Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina. Even a storm smaller than a tropical storm could damage temporary housing at the sites and the county has experienced as much as 30 inches of rain during weather events. Hurricane season has recently started and will last until November.

“Local emergency management officials must be allowed to review evacuation protocols to be certain they are in place and operable for the migrants.

“We are aware authorities have been looking at other sites (Department of Defense and Department of Agriculture property) where temporary housing sites could be set up.

“The estimated 25,000 migrants rumored to be relocated to Baldwin County nearly equals the population of our largest municipality; Daphne with approximately 26,000 residents!

“We respectfully request that you withdraw the current proposal.”