Mac Thornberry says oversight of Pentagon migrant camps ‘not really our issue’

Rep. Mac Thornberry, the House Armed Services chairman, said Friday that his committee will not be holding any immediate oversight hearings into the Pentagon’s role of housing detained immigrants despite unanimous requests by Democrats.

The Pentagon’s plan to make space at U.S. military bases for up to 32,000 immigrants falls outside of the panel’s purview and members will be busy this month hashing out an annual defense policy bill, said Thornberry, R-Texas.

All Democrats on the Armed Services Committee signed a letter to the chairman on Thursday pressing for an immediate oversight investigation with subcommittee hearings into how the military plans to carry out and pay for the initiative, which is part of a wider crackdown on illegal immigration at the Mexico border by the Trump administration.

“That’s not really our issue. We’re focused this month on getting our conference report done, so I don’t know we’ll look at other possibilities but it’s not really our issue,” Thornberry said. “Conference is what we are decided on.”

The House and Senate armed services committees began conference negotiations this week on the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act and leaders have said they hope to finish a final bill before the August recess.

Meanwhile, the space for migrants on military bases was requested in June by the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, but so far the housing is still in the planning stages.

The Pentagon has said it will construct tent cities for illegal immigrant children to be held at Goodfellow Air Force Base and for families at Fort Bliss, which are both in Texas.

“They are cordoning off parts of the bases. It is completely run by other organizations, not DOD at all,” Thornberry said.

The letter to Thornberry headed by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, cited the need for “immediate” oversight and an investigation of the Pentagon’s role in immigration, including the lending of military attorneys to work migrant cases at the border.

The hearings should begin right away and be held by the panel’s oversight and investigations subcommittee because the full committee is wrapped up in the NDAA negotiations, the Democratic minority told Thornberry.

“The use of military infrastructure, real property, and personnel for functions outside of core Department of Defense mission areas warrant congressional oversight from this committee. With these pressing concerns in mind, we request that you promptly initiate an [Oversight and Investigations] subcommittee investigation, and we look forward to your response,” they wrote.

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