Unaccompanied minor immigrant children will be coming to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to be temporarily housed, officials with the Department of Health and Human Services told Military Times.
The timing of the arrival of the children hasn’t yet been determined, according to a spokesperson for HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, who added, “No children will arrive before the facilities are prepared to safely house and care for incoming minors.”
Officials had also been considering unused federal property at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, as sites for emergency temporary shelter for the children, but those sites are no longer available, according to a spokesperson for HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. HHS officials assessed the unused property, and determined it meets the required standards.
Fort Sill will have the capacity to house 1,400 children ages 17 and under. The facilities where they will stay are “hard-sided” structures, with semi-permanent, soft-sided structures used for support operations, the spokesperson stated.
The bases were being considered because shelters at the border are beyond capacity to hold the children, ages 17 and under, while HHS officials work to find sponsors for them, usually family members. HHS has asked for an emergency appropriation of nearly $3 billion to increase shelter capacity.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan approved the request from HHS to house up to 5,000 unaccompanied children, and the request extends through Sept. 30. The temporary facilities could be opened and stay open through Sept. 30.
This marks the second time in five years that Fort Sill has been called on in this type of effort. Fort Sill was used to temporarily house nearly 2,000 unaccompanied immigrant children in 2014 for about two months because of a migration surge at that time.
When unaccompanied children age 17 and under are apprehended at the border, and have no lawful immigration status, they are transferred to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the HHS Administration for Families and Children. That office is required to provide for their care until they are released to appropriate sponsors, usually a parent or relative, while their immigration cases proceed, according to the spokesperson.
The ORR has seen a dramatic spike in referrals of unaccompanied minors, with referrals of about 40,891 from October through April. That’s an increase of nearly 57 percent over the same time period a year ago, officials said.
HHS notified state and local officials about the potential use of the property, and will continue to keep these officials and congressional officials informed during the process, the spokesperson stated.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.