Top Oklahoma Republicans are outraged that the Obama administration will begin housing as many as 600 illegal immigrant minors at the Fort Sill Army Base as early as Tuesday — at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $252 per child per day.
"Our nation has an immigration problem and a national security crisis, but I don't believe the answer is for our military facilities to be transformed into a center that houses, feeds, and cares for illegal immigrants," Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement on Friday.
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"This only encourages parents to send their children unaccompanied over the border and, with the average-aged child being between 13 and 17, it exposes our military facilities to unknown security concerns."
Rep. Tom Cole, whose district encompasses Fort Sill, said that he was "astonished and upset that I and others have learned about the administration's plan from unofficial sources, rather than through a process of official notification.
"The manner in which we have been informed of this decision allows almost no time to protest its implementation, to consider alternative solutions or to prepare for the arrival of hundreds of illegal aliens at a facility that is neither intended nor designed for their use," he said in a statement. "This is incredibly unfair to the American military."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told Inhofe of its plan on Wednesday, Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder told Newsmax.
"The administration has given no official notification, despite the fact that these children could arrive as early as June 10,” she said in a statement. “They alerted Senator Inhofe Wednesday that this would be happening."
A representative for Cole did not respond to an email query sent late Friday.
The Oklahoma development was among several on Friday involving illegal immigrants.
After widespread criticism by Arizona state and congressional officials, DHS said that it would stop dumping illegals
that it was bringing there from Texas. But officials in Arizona say the dumping has continued and federal agencies have asked the state
to provide food and medical supplies.
That started Memorial Day weekend, when 400 illegals were flown in and dropped off at bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix. As many as 48,000 children traveling on their own have since been dumped at the Arizona terminals.
"They have very little water," Arizona GOP Rep. Paul Gosar told "America's Forum"
on Newsmax TV. "They're in a country that they do not know anything about. They're just being dumped."
In addition, the Fort Sill program mirrors something that has been going on for the past three weeks at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. About 1,820 illegal minors have passed through there — and the effort costs taxpayers $252 per child per day.
And, the White House said on Friday that it would spend $2 million on lawyers for illegal minors facing deportation, The New York Times reports
Officials from DHS or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not respond to email queries from Newsmax about Fort Sill late Friday. Neither agency has officially announced the move.
As many as 600 illegal minors will be sent there, starting on Tuesday. Fort Sill is in Lawton, about 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, and has been in use since it was built in 1869. It was designated a national historic landmark in 1960.
The minors are generally 13 to 17 years old and generally come from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. They cannot be immediately repatriated or housed in detention centers, so they are handed over to ICE.
Many seek to be reunited with a parent who is already in the U.S. — and who also crossed the border illegally.
"That, to me, is de facto amnesty," Cole charged in his statement. He said that their numbers have swelled from 6,000 in 2011 to 66,000 last year.
"It would be far more appropriate to return those who have come to the country illegally to their country of origin as quickly and humanely as possible.
"Otherwise, we will simply encourage this flood of unaccompanied juveniles to continue and expand in the years ahead," he said.
In addition, strapped U.S. Border Patrol officials have reported seeing huge increases in illegals crossing
the border into Texas over the past year in anticipation of comprehensive immigration reform.
The Obama administration estimates that 60,000 children under 18 will enter the U.S. illegally alone this year. It's expected to grow to nearly 130,000 next year.
"The reasons, as we understand them, that contribute to this dramatic increase have to do with economic conditions in those countries, sustained violence in these countries — and the desire of these children to be reunited with family members in the United States," said Celia Munoz, the White House domestic policy adviser.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 illegal minors are sheltered at a time at in a portion of Lackland AFB. As many as 850 have so far been released to a vetted family member or a sponsor, said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Jesus Garcia.
They must bring the child to an immigration hearing, he said.
Built in 1941, Lackland houses new recruits for basic training.
Another center for minors also is expected to open soon at Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California. It will also hold a maximum of 600 children.
Despite poor advance notice from DHS to Oklahoma officials, Inhofe and Cole said they expected Lawton residents to rise to the challenge and support Fort Sill in this effort.
"I am confident that the Lawton community will do whatever it can to support the soldiers at Fort Sill as they go about discharging the duties which they have been assigned," Cole said.
"However, I am disappointed and dismayed that the administration has failed to provide timely notification to the Oklahoma congressional delegation and to state and local officials about its plan," he continued. "This plan is an inappropriate use of military facilities.
"It will inevitably strain and limit facilities and resources that are intended for the use of service men and women."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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