UPDATE: 7/3 – Officials say the shelter at Fort Sill is currently housing more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors.
According to Kenneth Wolfe with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently 1,158 minors in the Unaccompanied Alien Children program’s temporary shelter at Fort Sill.
Wolfe says at this time they are unsure how many will be admitted and discharged this week.
Update: 6/20 – Today Governor Mary Fallin toured the shelter at Fort Sill housing unaccompanied minors who crossed the U.S. southern border illegally.
During her press conference, Governor Fallin said she felt it was important to visit the shelter to see what was going on in Ft. Sill.
Fallin said, “President Obama’s lax policy on security our border has caused an illegal immigration crisis.”
During her tour, Governor Fallin was told the children are expected to stay in Oklahoma for approximately 120 days.
She confirmed that 600 children are currently being housed at the Ft. Sill shelter and 135 more are coming in today.
She said they are expecting to house around 1,200 children.
Most of the children being housed are between the ages of 12 and 17 years old.
According to Fallin, all of the children were vaccinated before coming to Oklahoma.
She criticized President Obama saying it is, “bad public policy to open up our borders and for these children to be able to come to the United States. It is dangerous for them.”
The goal is to reunite these children with their families.
At other locations, many children are being reunited with their family within 7 days to a couple of weeks.
Governor Fallin says the children are being treated humanely. They are being fed, clothed, and are receiving counseling.
There will be no medical cost for the state of Oklahoma. Any medical care for the children will be paid for by the feds.
Officials have contacted the local police to increase security in the area.
Governor Fallin believes housing illegal immigrants at Fort Sill was an inappropriate use of a military facility.
“This facility is designed for our soldiers to train and prepare to protect our nation,” said Fallin. “Instead, the federal government is using it as a cross between a boarding school and detention center for illegal immigrants. President Obama should not be using our military facilities as a tool to cover up his failed immigration policies.”
Fallin says many questions still go unanswered.
In her press conference she stated, “There are many questions that continue to remain unanswered. The Obama Administration tells us the Fort Sill facility will close in 120 days. They have not released any plan, however, to reduce the flood of illegal immigrants coming into this country. How then, can we expect this facility to be temporary, as they claim? This facility appears to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dealing with a failed illegal immigration policy that is creating a crisis at our border and in communities across the country. The Obama Administration appears adrift on this issue, creating policy on the fly, with little planning and no transparency. The outcome is not something that anyone can be happy with.”
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, who also toured the shelter, said Fort Sill has been advised to prepare to house up to 1,400 children.
“Today’s tour of Fort Sill just reaffirmed to me that something must be done to secure our borders and to force the Obama Administration to abide by our immigration laws,” said Inhofe. “The flood of children coming to the border without parents is a humanitarian crisis, and the President is also turning it into a national security issue by housing these individuals on our military installations. Since the President created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 and instructed DHS to ‘exercise discretion,’ the average number of unaccompanied children arriving at our borders has surged by 100 percent, and we are being warned it is only going to increase. The promise for ‘amnesty’ that the Administration has communicated to those in Latin America is resulting in an increase in dangerous child trafficking rings and families parting ways all with hope that they can obtain amnesty. My greatest concern with today’s visit is that the Administration still could not provide us answers to basic questions as to where the resources are going to come from to care for these children or the assurance that housing them on a military installation will not become a permanent program. As I’ve said before, the President needs to send a strong message to the world that our immigration laws will be enforced.”
UPDATE: On Monday morning, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 255 children are currently being housed at the fort.
LAWTON, Okla. – Hundreds of children who immigrated to the United States illegally are finding refuge in Oklahoma.
Waves of illegal immigrant children from Central American countries began crossing the American border to escape rampant crime and poverty but it is overwhelming U.S. Border Patrol.
Fort Sill is part of a controversial plan to host the children at several military bases around the country.
The Oklahoma post is expecting to house between 600 and 1,200 children, which has sparked criticism from Republicans and Gov. Mary Fallin.
Fallin says she does not like military bases being used for non-military needs.
The children will be living in a building not being used by soldiers at this time.
Republican Congressman Tom Cole believes President Obama’s immigration policies are at the root of the problem.
“We clearly have a policy failure here,” said Cole. “These people are coming here because they’re being encouraged to come here. I don’t think you encourage people to break your laws.”
Congressman Markwayne Mullin agreed with Cole, stating, “This whole debacle has been another example of the President’s failed leadership and incredibly flawed policies,” said Mullin. “The decision to harbor illegal minors at Fort Sill has rippling effects throughout the State of Oklahoma, yet no timely notification of these actions was given to our state officials or congressional delegation. Instead, we were made aware of the situation from unofficial sources. Even now, we have to dig to get any information. This is a show of complete lack of respect for Oklahomans and the laws governing our nation. Plain and simple, the President is failing to control the border, despite him stating otherwise. Even more, his policies are encouraging people to break our nation’s laws.”
Those same issues have caused mixed emotions among residents.
“I know they’re hungry but we got hungry kids of our own,” said one Lawton resident.
“I don’t see a problem with it, they’re minors and they need help,” said Gloriar Gutierrez.
“I feel bad for them, I really do, but they need to do things the right way,” said Leah Bayones.
“I think if the military is doing a good thing for somebody, it’s a good thing,” said James Mills.
The current plan is for the children to stay here for up to four months and then the children will either be placed with caretakers or, in some cases, deported.
“It’s not going to affect my children, my family personally; it’s care that someone else is going to provide. It’s not going to take away anything from the military families here or the soldiers,” said Gutierrez.
While illegal immigration is not a safe process, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson spoke to Congress recently and said our country is here to help.
“We provide a number of things for children when we find them because the law requires it and because our values require it,” said Johnson.
Despite differing opinions, Gutierrez says she believes everyone should put themselves in the shoes of these children.
“If you had it bad here, would you want to go somewhere else and try your hardest to give your family something better? I would, “she said.
Other military installations in Texas and California are housing illegal children as well.
NewsChannel 4 reached out to Fort Sill’s Public Affairs specialist but were told they don’t have any comments about this issue right now.
Ken Wolfe, the deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, confirms none of the children arrived at Fort Sill on Friday.
Instead, 135 kids will arrive on Saturday.