WASHINGTON — Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation on Monday stepped up their pressure on the administration to stop using Fort Sill, the U.S. Army artillery post in Lawton, for sheltering unaccompanied minors past the October deadline.
“There is significant concern the contract with Fort Sill is turning into a commitment beyond what was originally proposed by the administration and will soon begin to impede on the base’s vital responsibility to house and train new recruits,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa.
Fort Sill has been sheltering about 1,200 children — mostly teenagers from Central America — in troop barracks since early June. It is one of three domestic military bases that is housing some of the minors who have been flooding across the nation’s southern border.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved a request from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to expand the number of children who could be housed in military facilities and extended the time they can stay there.
It is not clear whether Fort Sill will be used past the Oct. 10 date for which it is authorized. Members of the delegation — who weren’t told ahead of time that Fort Sill would shelter the unaccompanied minors — haven’t heard whether the authority has been extended.
At a U.S. Senate hearing two weeks ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell was asked specifically about Fort Sill and said, “Right now, with the Department of Defense, we had 120 days. We’ve renewed that for additional days.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Fort Sill, said Monday, “I remain strongly opposed to use of our military bases for housing illegals, and most certainly do not support any time extension for HHS use of these facilities. Regardless of their origin, the treatment of all illegal immigrant children should be the same, meaning deportation should be immediate and mandatory.”
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