LAWTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to use Fort Sill to house up to 1,200 unaccompanied minors who illegally crossed the southern border of the United States, the Oklahoma governor’s office said Friday.
A flood of young people, often fleeing violence in Central America, have been coming across the border.
Usually between 13 and 17 years old, the number of these young people fleeing into this country has grown from 6,000 in 2011 to 66,000 last year, said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore. They typically go into the custody of U.S. Border Patrol agents. While adults who come across the border illegally can be returned to their home county quickly, these children typically are transferred into a shelter program until family members can be found.
Gov. Mary Fallin said her office was informed Friday of the plans to use Fort Sill, and Sen. Jim Inhofe said officials at the military installation have been told to prepare to receive children as early as Tuesday.
Fallin immediately criticized the president.
“The Obama administration today informed the state of Oklahoma that Fort Sill will be housing up to 1,200 unaccompanied minors who came into this country illegally,” she said. “While they have assured my office this arrangement is temporary, the Obama administration continues to fail in its duty to protect our borders and continues to promote policies that encourage, rather than discourage, illegal immigration.”
An official in the Fort Sill media office said no information was being released about the reports.
Cole expressed frustration but said the military and civilians were up to the task of helping the children.
“I have no doubt that the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army and the command and soldiers at Fort Sill will execute any order they are given or task they are assigned professionally and humanely,” Cole said. “I am equally confident that the Lawton community will do whatever it can to support the soldiers at Fort Sill as they go about discharging the duties which they have been assigned.”
He also criticized the Obama administration and said the state should have received earlier word about the plans to house the children at Fort Sill.
The White House said earlier this week that the “urgent humanitarian situation” had prompted the opening of facilities in Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and at a U.S. Naval base in Ventura County, Calif., to house the young people, many escaping violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
The Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the care and custody of unaccompanied illegal alien children after they are picked up.
On Monday, the president issued a memorandum ordering Homeland Security to establish a group to deal with the influx of unaccompanied children. The Federal Emergency Management Agency was to coordinate the group and ensure that humanitarian relief was provided to the children including housing, care, medical treatment and transportation.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, also criticized Obama.
“The recent, single-year influx of unaccompanied minors from foreign countries into the United States is a direct result of President Obama’s policies of encouraging amnesty and failing to enforce existing immigration laws,” said Lankford.
“The Obama administration has put children at risk in dangerous border crossings through the desert because of the president’s enticing offer of potential future citizenship.”
He said there has been a 168 percent increase in the apprehension of unaccompanied children who crossed the border illegally in the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande sector from 2013 to 2014.
Lankford said this “reveals the importance of immediately securing our borders and addressing executive policies that circumvent current immigration law.”
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said this is an improper use of Fort Sill.
“At a time when the president is drastically reducing defense spending funds at a historically rapid rate, he now expects our military bases to temporarily take on the responsibility of caring for unaccompanied children who have illegally crossed the border into the United States,” Inhofe said.
“Our nation has an immigration problem and a national security crisis, but I don't believe the answer is for our military facilities to be transformed into a center that houses, feeds and cares for illegal immigrants.