By Chris Casteel
Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation said Monday they don't want Fort Sill, the U.S. Army artillery post near Lawton, used to house unaccompanied alien children past the October deadline.
The delegation's comments came after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved a request from the Health and Human Services Department to house up to 5,000 more minors on military bases. Hagel had previously approved housing for up to 3,600 children. Hagel also approved a request that bases be used until the end of January.
Fort Sill is housing about 1,200 minors, mostly from Central American countries. The children began arriving in June but the base has been authorized as a shelter only until October.
According to Sen. Jim Inhofe's office, it is still not clear whether the Defense Department will extend the time Fort Sill is used.
Inhofe, of Tulsa, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, "First and foremost, the Oklahoma delegation is proud of Fort Sill and the community for rising to the occasion to assist the children that are in the crosshairs of this unfortunate crisis.
"There is significant concern the contract with Fort Sill is turning into a commitment beyond what was originally proposed by the Administration and will soon begin to impede on the base's vital responsibility to house and train new recruits."
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Fort Sill, said, "While the flood of these juveniles has caused an apparent crisis, it is one of the president's own making due to a policy failure stemming from his unwillingness to enforce existing immigration law."
"I remain strongly opposed to use of our military bases for housing illegals, and most certainly do not support any time extension for HHS use of these facilities. Regardless of their origin, the treatment of all illegal immigrant children should be the same, meaning deportation should be immediate and mandatory."
Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, said, "The request to extend use of DOD facilities for housing UAC is a very real threat to U.S. military readiness. Fort Sill is the primary artillery training center for troops before deployment. The barracks are needed in October to prepare them for housing our warfighters in this critical training mission. Secretary Hagel should not extend or expand the use of Ft. Sill as a UAC camp."