UPDATE 8/8 8:57 a.m.: Authorities from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed that all of the immigrant children who were held at Fort Sill have left the facility.
Officials say the children in the Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelter at the fort have either been transferred to standard shelters or released to sponsors while they await immigration proceedings.
In all, 1,861 minors have been discharged from the program’s temporary shelter at Fort Sill.
FORT SILL, Okla. – The Fort Sill military facility that has been caring for illegal immigrant children since June will close this Friday.
Governor Mary Fallin received notice Monday from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that Fort Sill will no longer house the children who had traveled here from Central America.
HHS says they’re closing the Fort Sill shelter because there is a decrease in the number of children crossing the border, which is typical in the hot summer months, and the government is now using more standard shelters.
One metro doctor from Central America says Oklahoma should be proud to help those children.
“I don’t think they should close Fort Sill at this point. I think it is immoral to do it,” Dr. Claudia Rossavik, who is from El Salvador, said Monday.
Dr. Rossavik said illegal immigrant children should be cared for at Fort Sill using the money Washington usually sends to “corrupt governments” in Central America.
“Where the governments have neglected their people, and it’s time for the United States of America to stop sending money to Central America,” she said. “They do not hold these people accountable for every penny we give them.”
More than 57,000 unaccompanied children reportedly have been caught crossing the border illegally.
The government shelters them at facilities like Fort Sill until they can be reunited with a relative or another U.S sponsor while they await a deportation hearing.
Monday, Gov. Fallin issued the following statement:
“I am pleased that the Obama Administration is finally listening to the people of Oklahoma and acting to close the Fort Sill facility for illegal immigrants. However, I am disturbed the administration chose to renew its lease on the facility, thereby preserving the option of reopening it in the future.
We know that illegal immigration naturally dips in the summer months, as temperatures rise at our southern border. Because of that decrease, the federal government has been able to empty the facility at Fort Sill and process the illegal immigrants they have brought to Oklahoma. There is nothing to stop this administration, however, from reopening the shelter at Fort Sill later in the year as the number of illegal immigrants apprehended naturally increases. I am calling on President Obama to set the record straight once and for all: will this facility be reopened, or can we trust that is has closed for good?
As I have said for weeks, opening this facility at all was an improper use of our military base. It was a public health hazard. It was also an attempt to find a band-aid solution to a much larger border crisis caused by President Obama’s unwillingness to enforce our laws and secure our borders. I am relieved – as are many Oklahomans – to hear this facility will be closed by the end of the week. We can now use it as it was intended: as a military resource to house and train soldiers.
Moving forward, I would like the president to give his word that this facility will remain closed permanently.”
Dr. Rossavik believes cartels use these children to divert America’s attention away from the drug and human trafficking issue along the border.
“I could have been one of these children,” she said, “living in tremendous poverty, violence and no hope.”
A spokesperson for HHS said – “In the near-term, the three temporary shelters on military bases could be re-opened for a limited time if the number of children increases significantly.”
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe is also weighing in on the decision. Here is a portion of his statement.
“I applaud the Lawton and Fort Sill communities for stepping up to the plate over the past few months to care for the thousands of children who have taken a dangerous journey to cross the U.S. border by invitation of the President. The announcement to close the UAC facility at Fort Sill is welcome news for the soldiers and various training missions on post. Our military is already struggling to carry out the mission asked of them during a time when the administration is slashing defense budgets and failing to prioritize national security. “
The children housed at the other two facilities will be moved within the next few months.
The department says it hopes to create a more permanent shelter that is more cost-efficient.
In May and June, the department was flooded with nearly 20,000 children crossing the border illegally.
Currently, Politico says only about 190 children are staying at the Fort Sill facility.