With space running out at government shelters, the federal government said it will house detained migrant children on the Fort Sill Army installation in Lawton.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said he’d received an assurance from the Trump administration that the placement of minors at Fort Sill will be temporary. Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services Department agreed state officials, stakeholders and the news media will be able to tour the facilities at Fort Sill, Inhofe said.
The federal agency has not yet said when children will begin to arrive at Fort Sill or how many may be placed there. A spokesman for the agency did not return a call Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said he planned to closely monitor the situation at Fort Sill. But the placement of children at atypical locations highlights the need for immigration reform, he said. Cole’s district includes Fort Sill.
“This surge of migrants is overwhelming our usual facilities and resources, including the capacity for housing and caring for thousands of vulnerable unaccompanied children arriving each month,” Cole said. “While the announced use of Fort Sill as a shelter for these children is only temporary, it certainly highlights the dire need for a permanent solution to manage the border crisis.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, under Health and Human Services, is in charge of unaccompanied minors with no lawful immigration status who are apprehended at the border. The office cares for the children until they are released, typically to a family member.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, criticized the practice of separating children from their parents at the border and called for comprehensive immigration reform.
Gov. Kevin Stitt at a news conference Wednesday said he was only recently made aware of plans to place children at Fort Sill. He said he heard about 1,000 children would be housed in Lawton.
Stitt said he reached out to Fort Sill officials to make sure day-to-day military activities will not be disrupted. He also said he reached out to state health officials to see if there’s anything the state can do to help the federal government in this situation. “We’re going to take care of those young people the best we can,” Stitt said.
In 2014, Fort Sill was used to detain 1,861 migrant children.
Fort Sill was used as a temporary shelter for just over seven weeks and was used to house a small fraction of 57,000 unaccompanied children who crossed into the U.S. illegally. Many were fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and seeking to reunite with a parent or relative already in the U.S.An influx of federal employees, many from Health and Human Services, were sent to the base to oversee care for the minors.
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