LAWTON — Hundreds of young people who came across the southern U.S. border illegally are expected to begin arriving this week at Fort Sill, where they will be housed temporarily.
“Our target date to begin receiving children at Fort Sill is Friday, June 13,” Kenneth J. Wolfe, spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s office has said federal officials have notified the state that up to 1,200 of the young people may be brought to Fort Sill.
Fort Sill’s public affairs office issued a statement Monday saying the Administration for Children and Families will provide caretakers for the children.
“The agency will maintain responsibility to ensure the safety, care and treatment of the unaccompanied minors,” the statement said.
“Fort Sill will provide a vacant facility historically used by soldiers set apart from the main post that offers sleeping quarters, bathing and toilet facilities, as well as a multipurpose gathering space.”
The children will stay at Fort Sill until they can be reunited with their families or placed with a sponsor.
“Fort Sill anticipates supporting the interagency mission for up to four months or as long as directed,” the statement said.
The statement also indicated the temporary arrangement should not significantly impact the military installation’s primary mission of training and deploying soldiers and Marines.
Military installations in San Antonio and Ventura County, Calif., are also to assist in providing temporary housing for the influx of thousands of unaccompanied children, many of whom have fled to this country from Central America.
At the White House, senior administration officials speaking only on background, said the administration was trying to address “an urgent humanitarian situation” caused by an influx of minors from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala into Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The murder rates in those three countries rank in the top five in the world, one official said.
“What we hear from the children themselves is that violence is a major reason they’re coming forward in this way and taking what is really a very perilous journey to reach the United States,” one official said.
“And in some cases there are family reunification considerations. But this has to do with what children are fleeing in Central America. And once they reach the United States, we are making sure we are doing an appropriate and effective job in meeting our responsibilities and our obligations to these young people.”
The children are first encountered by U.S. Border Patrol agents and are then turned over to the Health and Human Services Department. While they are being cared for, they also are in removal proceedings.
The officials said Fort Sill would be able to hold 600 people at first and eventually up to 1,200.