LAWTON — With details still scarce about a humanitarian mission that will bring hundreds of immigrant children to Fort Sill temporarily, the community is preparing for an influx of federal workers who will care for the children.
An estimated 600 to 1,200 children are expected to arrive by bus at Fort Sill by the weekend after being caught at the U.S. border while fleeing Central American countries. Workers will try to reunite the children with their families or find them a sponsor.
To handle the more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border since October, the government said it will open short-term shelters at Fort Sill and in California and Texas.
Federal employees will be brought to Lawton at a ratio of one to every two children — meaning at least 300 workers — and possibly 600 — are expected to flood the community in the coming days, filling hotels and rental houses, city officials say. While the children will be housed on fort grounds, the workers will not.
Open not quite three months, the Hilton Garden Inn, with its sliding frosted glass doors and modern lobby, will be home away from home for many of the workers.
“Business has doubled since yesterday,” front desk supervisor Dusty Tracy said Thursday between calls.
Those calling were making arrangements to rent rooms to accommodate a schedule of seven days on, seven days off or four days on, three days off, she said. The workers also were saying they would be staying four to six months.
The economic impact of the workers’ stay in Lawton is estimated at $1.2 million in the first 30 days, Col. Glenn Waters told Lawton city officials during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Mayor Fred Fitch said there are still many unanswered questions about the mission and details have been scant.
“The public awareness of this through the media is in its infant stage,” he said.
Waters also assured city officials they won’t be responsible for providing schooling or health care to the children, and all programs will be contained within the barracks.
Gov. Mary Fallin and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, have criticized the program.
But Lawton City Manager Bryan Long said the politics are irrelevant to the city — which is completely intertwined with Fort Sill.
“It just really doesn’t matter to our community what the political ends are; we’re committed to working with Fort Sill and making this a positive experience,” Long said.