OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — More than 1,800 unaccompanied immigrant children came through Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma before the facility was closed last week, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.
Kenneth Wolfe, spokesman for department’s Administration for Children and Families, said 1,861 minors were processed through the base. The temporary shelter opened in June and its operations were closed last Wednesday.
A 2008 law requires that unaccompanied child immigrants from countries that don’t border the United States be handed over to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours of being apprehended. The government cares for the children until they can be reunited with a relative or another sponsor in the United States while they await deportation hearings in immigration court.
In addition to Fort Sill, military bases in Texas and California have housed thousands of immigrant children since May. They were sent to the Army barracks after detention centers near the border were overwhelmed. The federal government said last week that the shelters in Texas and California will wrap up operations in the coming weeks. About 7,700 children had been housed at the three military bases since shelters there opened in May and early June. They stayed an average of 35 days.
About 63,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, entered the U.S. illegally from October to July, double the number from the same period a year earlier. The numbers slowed in July, possibly due to temperatures climbing at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Wolfe earlier said another surge of unaccompanied children could press the bases into service again.
Michael McNutt, spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said at least 212 of the children were placed with sponsors in Oklahoma.
Fallin said in a statement that she is pleased the Obama administration closed the facility.
“However, I am disturbed the administration chose to renew its lease on the facility, thereby preserving the option of reopening it in the future,” she added.
Fallin said there is nothing to stop the federal government from reopening the shelter at Fort Sill later in the year if the number of immigrants illegally crossing increases.