OKLAHOMA CITY — As news spread Wednesday that one of Oklahoma’s largest military bases would once again be used to house thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children, Oklahoma’s governor said politicians in Washington must tackle immigration issues.
“This is a perfect example that Washington, D.C., needs to get their act together and solve our border issue,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt. “We need to actually enforce the laws on our border. We’re not enforcing them today.”
The federal government announced this week that it plans to open a new facility with up to 1,400 temporary beds at Fort Sill, the U.S. Army base in Lawton. Federal officials also used the same military base to house unaccompanied immigrant minors in 2014 during another surge in migration.
Immigrant children caught in the country without proper documentation — and without parents — must be held in special facilities until they can be reunited with an adult.
Their numbers have skyrocketed in recent months, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement operated by Department of Health and Human Services. The federal agency plans to use vacant facilities on the base to house the youth in the coming days.
A spokesman did not say when the first children will arrive at the base.
In budget year 2019, the department reported already receiving referrals for nearly 41,000 unaccompanied children. That’s up nearly 57 percent from the same period the previous year, according to data provided by the federal Administration for Children and Families.
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, said thousands of children are illegally crossing into the United States in unprecedented numbers.
“This is further proof that the crisis at the border needs Congress’ immediate attention to address the growing humanitarian crisis and to fix the loopholes in our nation’s immigration process,” he said in a statement.
Lankford said $1.3 billion is already being spent to care for the undocumented children, and President Donald Trump has requested another $4.5 billion.
“The humanitarian crisis at our southern border continues to worsen by the day,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, in a statement.
“In May alone, there were 144,000 migrants seeking entry —including far more families and children than ever before,” he said. “This surge of migrants is overwhelming our usual facilities and resources, including the capacity for housing and caring for thousands of vulnerable unaccompanied children arriving each month."
He said the use of Fort Sill highlights a dire need for a permanent solution to the border crisis.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.