OKLAHOMA CITY — Few consequences for children caught sneaking over the U.S. border could help explain an influx of undocumented teenagers now pouring into makeshift shelters throughout the country, according to an immigration group.
“Word has gotten back that there are no consequences for being caught. When you make it here, you will be sheltered and be allowed to stay for the foreseeable future,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonpartisan group in Washington D.C.
Immigrant children caught in this country without proper documentation — and without parents — are held in special facilities until they can be reunited with an adult. And their number has skyrocketed, from about 6,700 in 2003 to the 60,000 expected by federal immigration officials this year, according to data provided by the federal Administration for Children and Families.
Last weekend, Gov. Mary Fallin’s office announced the federal government’s plans to open a new facility with 1,400 temporary beds at Fort Sill, the U.S. Army base in Lawton. Federal officials have opened similar facilities at military installations in San Antonio and Ventura County, Calif.
Because such large shelters for immigrant children are rare, little is known about the conditions inside them and the youths’ experiences.
“It looks like not very many people are going to have access to these bases to see how they’re going to be run,” said Vaughan, noting that is a concern for advocacy groups.
“You do have a bunch of teenagers together with little supervision,” she said. “It kind of reminds me of college a little bit. Imagine what could go wrong.”
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, which will run the federal program at Fort Sill, said children will receive services including education. That will be provided by a contractor, he said, not the state’s public schools.