Fort Sill facility for unaccompanied minors to be closed by Friday

FORT SILL, Okla. (AP) -- Federal authorities say unaccompanied immigrant children housed at Fort Sill are expected to leave the Army post by Friday.

Kenneth Wolfe of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told The Associated Press on Monday the agency can move children from military barracks because it has expanded the capacity of traditional shelters. Wolfe said standard shelters are significantly less expensive to operate.

2NEWS anchor Russ McCaskey toured the facility in July and found many of the children to be happy, smiling and displaying flags from their home countries.

The agency also says the demand for military shelters was reduced because of a drop in the number of children crossing the nation's southwest border.

Wolfe says military facilities in California and Texas should wrap up work within two to eight weeks. The three shelters have housed 7,700 immigrant children since May.

The agency says another surge of unaccompanied children could press the bases into service again.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe released this 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.  Unfortunately, throughout this process, the Obama Administration’s information on the use of Fort Sill has been inconsistent and even contradictory. Just a few weeks ago, they were talking about extending the DOD leases through January and increasing the capacity of children the bases should hold. I will consider it a victory for our national security and Fort Sill once the Obama Administration actually follows through on their word to end use of the facility by next week.

“Ultimately though this news does nothing to stem the unprecedented flow of children across the U.S.-Mexico border or correct the president’s policies that are encouraging illegal immigration. Instead of reconsidering or repealing his controversial program of deferred action for childhood arrivals, it is being reported that the President is looking to use executive action to expand the program to millions more. We are a country made of immigrants, with more than 1 million coming to our country through the proper legal process each year. We should be enforcing the policies Congress put in place to keep our nation and borders secure, while respecting those who have made the concerted effort to abide by our laws."

Governor Mary Fallin's 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 it 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.”

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