OKLAHOMA CITY — The federal government no longer plans to house unaccompanied immigrant children at a Lawton military base, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children and Families announced Saturday afternoon.

In an email, spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said referrals of unaccompanied migrant children have decreased, and officials are now placing youth with sponsors at a historically high rate.

For those reasons, she said her agency sees no immediate need to place children at the Fort Sill Army post.

“(Department of Health and Human Services) operations will be placed in warm status, retaining access to ensure continuity of operations in the event of an increase in (unaccompanied minor children) referrals or an emergency situation,” she said.

No youth are housed at Fort Sill. Defense facilities are activated as a last resort, she said.

However, Stauffer said migration patterns are unpredictable, and government officials expect to see an uptick in the number of unaccompanied youth this fall.

“Therefore, it is prudent to continue coordination and site preparation with (the Department of Defense) should full activation be required in the future,” she said.

The agency’s June announcement that it was preparing to move as many as 1,400 immigrant children to the military base generated considerable controversy.

Hundreds of people protested the plans to house youth at the U.S. Army base in Lawton, which was also used as a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

Immigrant children caught in the country without proper documentation — and without parents — must be held in special facilities until they can be reunited with an adult.

Their numbers had been skyrocketing in recent months, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement operated by Department of Health and Human Services.

In budget year 2019, the department reported already receiving referrals for nearly 41,000 unaccompanied children. That’s up nearly 57 percent from the same period the previous year, according to data provided by the federal Administration for Children and Families.

The federal agency had planned to use the base's vacant facilities to house some youth in an emergency shelter.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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