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Alamogordo Daily News: Sen. Martin Heinrich visits Alamogordo

Sen. Martin Heinrich traveled to Southern New Mexico this weekend to tour the Health and Human Services' facility at Holloman Air Force Base as well as meet with military officials.

"I think getting both squadrons with F-16's here was a big success story and they're doing well," Heinrich said. "There was concern about one of the squadrons potentially being poached to another base and we've been able to get that in place. I also think that the future of aviation is very much in the RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) world and Holloman is carving out a very robust position as the No. 1 place on earth where RPA pilots are trained."

Heinrich, who was appointed to the Armed Services Committee in December 2014, said he's pleased to have the F-16's at Holloman and feels it's a very important mission. In response to the fear in the local community that Holloman could close at some point, Heinrich stated he wouldn't let that happen.

"Given the pressure that we're under right now to fill these missions and to train pilots, especially on the RPA front because we can't train pilots fast enough and we can't train instrument operators fast enough in that world," Heinrich said. "Holloman's not going to close. I'm sure as hell not going to let it close."

Heinrich pointed out the investment the Department of Defense made into Holloman's new medical facility as proof of the base's future. Heinrich also highlighted the uniqueness of airspace that Holloman has access too, as well as the proximity to the airspace of White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss.

"That is a truly unique resource," he said. "You can't replicate that in most places in the country anymore because the conflicts already exist, you couldn't just plop that down some place else. In my experience with people in the Pentagon, they're very aware of what a unique combination WSMR and Holloman make together."

Heinrich's trip to Southern New Mexico also included a tour of the refugee children facility.

"(HHS) is doing 24/7 construction to turn what is basically a couple of big buildings into a usable facility with sanitary, beddown and food facilities that they need," Heinrich said. "I was highly concerned when I first heard about this. I raised a lot of issues and questions with the White House directly."

Heinrich said part of his concern came from his experience with the facility in Artesia last year.

"What I found today, which was a pleasant surprise, is that our challenges with HHS have largely been communication challenges but that the implementation that we're seeing out there is actually what I would hope for in terms of a very professional operation," he said.

Heinrich explained the average time of HHS's process with the refugee children is 32 days and this facility is the tail end of HHS's process.

"It will be a temporary surge facility," he said. "Kids will come in and probably within days to a week or two, they'll be turned over to a trustee or transported out of here and to a trustee in another state."

A trustee is defined as someone who legally takes child into their custody, such as a relative, while it's being decided what to do with that unaccompanied minor.

"This facility is designed to be a temporary facility and one of the reasons they're doing it is because they're continuing to see instability in Central America which is getting worse as opposed to better," Heinrich said. "Last year, they maxed out their permanent facilities and then didn't have any surge capacity. This is a facility designed to be ready for that surge capacity if they need it. If they don't have the numbers, then I suspect it won't be utilized at a very high rate."

He said some of these children will fall into a refugee or asylum category and others will probably be sent home.

"Depending on what the individual character of their case is and why they left," Heinrich said. "If someone leaves and it's strictly for economic reasons, then they're not granted asylum. If somebody leaves because they're under fear of death or is basically running from a drug gang that ran their neighborhood and murdered their mother, that's an example of someone who probably would get asylum."

Heinrich said the most accurate information he has currently points to refugee children arriving at the facility a week from