Housing Immigrants: An Open Letter to SecDef Mattis from a Spouse

Border Patrol agents take Central American immigrants into custody on January 4, 2017 near McAllen, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Border Patrol agents take Central American immigrants into custody on January 4, 2017 near McAllen, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)

Alison Buckholtz is the author of Standing By: The Making of an American Military Family in a Time of War(Tarcher/Penguin, April 2009; paperback April 2013), one of the first memoirs of the Iraq war period by a military spouse. It's been called "outstanding nonfiction" by the Washington Post and is regularly named as a resource that helps bridge the civilian-military divide and included in roundups of the most influential books by military spouses.

Defense Secretary Mattis,

As a military spouse, I implore you not to allow the government to house undocumented immigrant families, especially children who have been separated from their parents, on American military bases. To do so would make the military complicit in the cascading effects of an indefensible "zero tolerance" policy toward asylum seekers and others who have committed no crime other than seeking a better life.

Holding these people while they await immigration or criminal proceedings would transform military bases into incarceration camps and make every service member, spouse, and child accountable for this policy. It would forever link the military with this stain on our history.

It's an understatement to say that I disagree with our government's approach to immigration. Like most Americans, I'm repulsed by policies that separate families, institutionalize children in cages, and neglect to provide basic care for people we take into custody. But my plea to you today is very specific: Military bases are not meant to be jails for would-be immigrants and unaccompanied children.

If you're lucky, as our family has been, military bases are friendly neighborhoods where moms and dads watch Fourth of July fireworks with their kids; they are the backdrop of a child's birth, first steps, and first day of school pictures; they are safe places for our military men and women to work and grow as leaders. More than anything else, for service member and spouse alike, military bases are where we learn to watch over our fellow human beings, whether or not they are strangers to us.

I'm for the America that watches over our fellow human beings. Incarcerating undocumented immigrant families and unaccompanied children, especially on military bases, runs counter to this.

Our military should continue to be a path to citizenship for would-be immigrants, not their jailers. Please reconsider allowing our military to be associated in any way with this policy.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for consideration.

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