Oklahoma lawmakers are expressing outrage at a plan to use a U.S. Army base in the state to house Central American minors who entered the U.S. illegally.
Between 600 and 1,200 of the young immigrants, called “unaccompanied minors,” will be transported to Fort Sill, which is near Lawton in southern Oklahoma, as part of a $1.4 billion Obama administration plan to deal with an unexpected surge of illegals from Central America.
“The lack of border security will continue to subject communities across America to a similar burden,” said Shannon, who is also running for the U.S. Senate.
“Who else has access to our country?” he asked, saying that the soldiers at Fort Sill will fulfill their duties, though “they never should be in this position to begin with.”
Costs to house and feed the immigrant youth are expected to reach up to $250 per day per person. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is directing the effort which will provide the minors mattresses, hot meals, portable toilets, educational services and recreational activities.
The number of unaccompanied children attempting to enter the U.S. has skyrocketed of late. Coming mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, 4,059 of them were apprehended in fiscal year 2011. That number has increased five-fold, reaching 21,537 by 2013.
The influx continues to grow. The total number of apprehended minors from all countries has increased 92 percent so far this year compared to last, according to The New York Times.
This poses a problem, especially given that the immigrants hail from countries that don’t border the U.S.
Mexican immigrants can be returned immediately to their home country. But those from more southern locales have to undergo formal deportation processes and be flown back to their country of origin.
Immigrants who are children compound the problem because the Department of Health and Human Services takes them in and tries to reunite them with family members in the U.S. Until that happens, they are kept in federal hands.
Besides being held at Fort Sill — they will begin arriving as soon as Tuesday — Naval Base Ventura County near Oxnard, California and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, will house thousands.
Lackland began serving as a holding station several weeks ago.
Besides concerns from Shannon, other Oklahoma politicians are unhappy with the arrangement in their state.
“While [the Obama administration has] assured my office this arrangement is temporary, the Obama administration continues to fail in its duty to protect our borders and continues to promote policies that encourage, rather than discourage, illegal immigration,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement on Friday.
She said that the plan will set the stage for “eventual amnesty.”
“This is a very inappropriate use for a military facility. It’s not what they’re designed to do,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, according to Oklahoma City’s News 9. “They’re not supposed to be juvenile detention centers. It is going to detract from resources that should be devoted to our American service men and women.”
Cole expressed disappointment that the Obama administration failed to brief Congress on the plan, though he expects to meet with the Department of Health and Human Services on Monday.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe concurred with Cole.
“Our nation has an immigration problem and a national security crisis, but I don’t believe the answer is for our military facilities to be transformed into a center that houses, feeds, and cares for illegal immigrants,” said Inhofe in a statement. “This only encourages parents to send their children unaccompanied over the border.”
The administration is sending other resources to help families and minors. Justice Department Sec. Eric Holder announced a plan last week to employ around 100 attorneys through the AmeriCorps program to provide legal services to unaccompanied children. (RELATED: Obama Hires Lawyers To Aid New Wave Of Illegals)
A recently revealed internal draft memo from a U.S. Border Patrol official shed light on the scope of the recent uptick in immigration by unaccompanied children, which has been attributed to a mix of “push” and “pull” factors, including violence in the immigrants’ home countries and perceptions that it is easier to enter the U.S. and stay here.
The Department of Homeland Security increased their fiscal year 2014 projection from 74,200 to 90,166 apprehensions of unaccompanied children, according to a draft memo written by a Border Patrol official. The fiscal year 2015 projection was increased from 114,430 to 142,000 apprehensions.
The number of actual immigrants is likely higher since many are not apprehended.