Plan to Send 1,400 Migrant Children to Fort Sill on Track Despite Protests

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Honduran migrant children wear garbage bags to protect them from a cold rain as they sit on the stoop of a shop in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Honduran migrant children wear garbage bags to protect them from a cold rain as they sit on the stoop of a shop in Tijuana, Mexico, Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

An arrival date hasn't been set, but the plan to send about 1,400 migrant children to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to relieve overcrowding at border facilities is on track, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said Tuesday.

"At this time, the arrival [at Fort Sill] of unaccompanied alien children [UAC] has yet to be determined" while facilities at the sprawling post "are prepared to safely house and care for incoming minors," HHS' Administration for Children and Families said in an emailed statement.

HHS pledged to keep local and congressional officials up to date on preparations for housing the minors and details on when they will arrive, the statement said.

Earlier, Fort Sill spokesmen referred questions on housing the children to U.S. Northern Command, which referred them to HHS, the agency that will have responsibility for the children's care while they are on the base.

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Last month, HHS said that Fort Sill, the 94,000-acre post near Lawton, Oklahoma, that serves as home for the Army's Field Artillery School and the Air Defense Artillery School, had been chosen for the temporary housing of migrant children who have been living in overcrowded and allegedly squalid conditions at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Texas.

Unused property at Fort Benning, Georgia, and Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, had also been considered, but HHS settled on Fort Sill.

At the department’s request, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said earlier this year that the military would be prepared to house up to 5,000 children at unspecified bases if needed to help relieve the crisis at the border.

Fort Sill has taken in unaccompanied children in the past. During the administration of President Barack Obama, it housed 1,200 unaccompanied children for four months during a previous border crisis.

Then-Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Democrat, blamed Obama's "failed immigration policies," saying, "It is alarming to have 1,200 children in a military Installation."

During World War II, Fort Sill served as one of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans in a shameful chapter in U.S. history for which President Ronald Reagan issued a formal apology in 1988.

Last month, several of the Japanese-American survivors of the Fort Sill internment joined demonstrators at the base's gate to support the rights of immigrant children and chant "Stop Repeating History," according to local news outlets.

Last week, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the state's senior senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he didn't know exactly when the migrant children would arrive at Fort Sill but added that they would be treated well.

He said he had been told by HHS and the military that the children would all be between the ages of 13 and 17, would be medically screened before arrival and would have their own beds and adequate dining, shower and bathroom facilities.

They will have hard-sided accommodations instead of being housed in a tent city, he said.

"I think they're going to have a better quality of life than they are accustomed to," Inhofe told local 7News. "That's not saying much, but when you have a private bed facility, you have food and you have medical care, that's something most of them did not have before.

"Those individuals talking about a concentration camp or something like that, they're making up stories," he said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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