Five years ago, Oklahoma’s Republican governor and congressional leadership reacted to the news that immigrant children were being housed at Fort Sill with alarm and demanded that then-President Barack Obama close the facility.
This time around, some of them are singing a mellower tune.
After the Department of Homeland Security said it is sending 1,400 unaccompanied minors to Fort Sill, adjacent to Lawton in southwestern Oklahoma, U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford and 4th District Congressman Tom Cole, issued a joint statement assuring constituents the Trump administration has everything under control and encouraging residents to welcome the detainees.
“During this emergency, I fully support (Homeland Security) using Fort Sill to again house these children, as was done in 2014 during the Obama Administration,” said Cole, who represents Fort Sill.
“I have every confidence in those involved and tasked with the challenging job ahead, but I also have no doubt that our leaders at Fort Sill as well as local officials and the Lawton community will be welcoming and supportive.”
“I have spoken to the Trump administration and local base officials and am confident that ... there is an organized, responsible plan for temporarily housing unaccompanied minors at Fort Sill that will not have an adverse impact to readiness or the missions at Fort Sill,” Inhofe said.
One thing that hasn’t changed from 2014, the Republicans say, is that the situation is still Obama’s fault.
“This crisis was caused by President Obama and Congressional Democrats,” said Inhofe. “President Obama’s policies invited these minors to come, and the Democrats’ continued blockade against common sense immigration reforms, including building the wall, have perpetuated it.”
Inhofe is among those Republicans fuming over congressional Democrats’ refusal to go along with a $50 billion barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border. He also says Obama “invited” unaccompanied children into the U.S. by promoting a policy of allowing undocumented aliens previously brought to the U.S. as children to remain indefinitely.
The policy did not cover new arrivals, but critics of the policy say the distinction was lost on or purposely ignored by Central Americans desperate to get a foothold in the U.S.
The 2013-14 influx of unaccompanied children soon subsided, but recent months have seen a sharp increase in the number of women and children seeking asylum or trying to enter the country illegally. In many cases, children are being separated from the adults with whom their traveling, resulting in a large number of unaccompanied minors.
Lankford, less direct in blaming the previous administration for the current situation, said he was “frustrated by President Obama’s lack of engagement in the problem” while in office.
Cole did not directly criticize Obama or congressional Democrats who have opposed Trump’s $4.5 billion request for border spending, which includes $3.3 billion for humanitarian aid such as caring for unaccompanied children.
A similar situation existed in 2014, when Obama’s request for $3.7 billion was blocked largely by Republicans.
“The humanitarian crisis at our southern border continues to worsen by the day,” Cole said. “In May alone, there were 144,000 migrants seeking entry — including far more families and children than ever before.
“This surge of migrants is overwhelming our usual facilities and resources, including the capacity for housing and caring for thousands of vulnerable unaccompanied children arriving each month. While the announced use of Fort Sill as a shelter for these children is only temporary, it certainly highlights the dire need for a permanent solution to manage the border crisis.”
“This is further proof that the crisis at the border needs Congress’ immediate attention to address the growing humanitarian crisis and to fix the loopholes in our nation’s immigration process,” said Lankford, who has made several trips to Latin America to learn more about the problem.
Inhofe said Democrats “continue to ignore the crisis” and that “our only hope” is “to enforce our immigration laws and secure the border.”