Oklahoma Gov. complains to White House about children housed at Fort Sill
Gov. Mary Fallin sent a letter to the White House on Monday complaining about a program at Fort Sill that is caring for unaccompanied minor children from Central America who have crossed the U.S. border illegally.
Fallin said the program has been shrouded in secrecy and expressed concerns about the status of more than 1,000 young people who have cycled through the temporary shelter at the Army installation before being released to sponsors or relatives, including 212 who have been placed with people in Oklahoma.
Under a child trafficking act passed by Congress in 2008 and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush, children such as these are to be cared for temporarily by U.S. Health and Human Services authorities before being placed with family or sponsors pending deportation hearings.
President Barack Obama and Congress have been discussing legislation to change this act and to beef up border enforcement to deal with the growing number of young people fleeing Central America.
Since October, more than 52,000 children from that violent and impoverished region have been apprehended in the U.S., more than double the previous year.
"Slightly more than half of the children placed with sponsors are ever expected to return with their sponsor to immigration court, and less than half will eventually be deported," Fallin said in the letter.
Her spokesman, Alex Weintz, elaborated.
"The governor believes these children should be treated humanely while they are here, but that they should be sent to their home countries as quickly as possible," he said. "Instead, they are being placed in a system that seems designed for them to simply disappear."
Fallin complained in the letter that children placed with sponsors are eligible for state-funded education and emergency health care.
She also said that although the Fort Sill facility has been reserved for 120 days, she expects it will be open longer than that.
The letter was followed by an email blast from her re-election campaign touting her "relentless pressure on the president to close the facility."
Children began arriving at the facility on June 14, and 1,192 have been discharged to family and sponsors, said Kenneth J. Wolfe, spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There were 669 minors there Friday.
There was no immediate response from the White House regarding Fallin's letter.
Fallin and other elected officials have complained that they weren't given proper notice from the federal government about the plan to use an empty barracks at Fort Sill to provide temporary shelter for up to 1,200 young people at a time. The secrecy has continued, she said in her letter to the president.
"Information about the operation at Fort Sill has come largely through informal conference calls, off-the-record and private meetings and media accounts," Fallin said, adding that she took a "guided and heavily scripted tour" of the facility. There was also a media tour.
"The result of this secrecy is that the true nature of this facility has largely been obscured to the general public," she said.
Other, similar facilities were opened at military installations in Texas and California.