SOUTHCOM’s Faller: No plans to send asylum seekers at U.S.-Mexico border to Cuba
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 9, 2019
There have been no discussions to use an under-construction contingency mass migration complex at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to house migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico, the military’s top official for operations in South and Central America said Tuesday.
“No discussion or order has been given to me to prepare that site for southwest border flow,” Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel on emerging threats and capabilities. The hearing focused on SOUTHCOM’s defense strategy.
The $23 million contract in question was awarded Feb. 22 and includes site shaping for tents, concrete pads for camp headquarters, galleys and trash bins, perimeter and service roads, and a mass notification system, according to an announcement about the project from the Defense Department. The contract also funds utility systems, exterior lighting, a vehicle parking area and the removal of two family housing trailer units. Work is estimated for completion in December.
“Are you aware of this contract and have you been part of any discussions of what that mass migration complex is going to be used for?” asked Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
One of the missions of SOUTHCOM is mass migration operations and it has conducted operations at this site in the past with migrants from Cuba and Haiti, Faller said. The new funding will transition the current site, which turns to mud after it rains and can hold a couple hundred people, to one that could support “tens of thousands” in a “very spartan camp,” Faller said.
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, also expressed concern about the facility.
“Any news reports that say that there is a potential for housing these people at Guantanamo Bay would be mistaken?” she asked.
“I’ve seen the same news reports, senator, but the program money and the project we’re overseeing and the mission we have are for mass migration and not the southwest border,” Faller said. He agreed to notify the committee if discussions begin about housing asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. southern border in Cuba.
Faller said soldiers use the facility at Guantanamo for training exercises related to this mass migration mission and that he’s personally seen the construction underway.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is turning to the Defense Department for other options to house migrants, primarily from Central America, who are seeking asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico. The Defense Department agreed in May to build six tents along the border to detain adult migrants. The department has also agreed to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to house migrant children at Fort Sill, Okla.
Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities Chairman Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Ranking Member Sen. Ralph Peters, D-Mich., listen as Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, testifies at a hearing on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2019.
JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES