The Oklahoman: Oklahoma's Cole, Lankford blame Obama for border, immigration woes

Jun 15, 2014 Issues: Immigration

The Oklahoman - Silas Allen

A day after the first wave of unaccompanied immigrant children began arriving at Fort Sill, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole blamed President Barack Obama for the predicament.

Speaking to a group of journalists and publishers Saturday, Cole, R-Moore, said Obama had failed to stanch the flow of people, including unaccompanied children, entering the country illegally across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This is not a humanitarian crisis,” Cole said. “This is a policy failure.”

Fort Sill is expected to house as many as 1,200 immigrant minors who were caught at the U.S. border while trying to flee Central American countries. The children will be housed on the grounds at Fort Sill as they go through the deportation process. Workers will try to reunite the children with their families or find them a sponsor.

The U.S. Army post is one of three sites where the federal Administration for Children and Families is opening short-term shelters to handle the more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border since October. Similar shelters also are being established at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and Naval Base Ventura County in California.

During a congressional panel Saturday at an Oklahoma Press Association conference, Cole, whose district includes Fort Sill, said he was concerned about the Obama administration’s use of military facilities to house immigrant children. Although he said he was confident Fort Sill personnel would handle the situation well, Cole said the post wasn’t built to house immigrant children.

“This is the wrong place for this population to be,” he said.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said housing immigrants at Fort Sill creates a bad situation for the children. It would be cheaper and more humane for federal officials to process deportation paperwork quickly and send the children back to their home countries on deportation flights rather than house them for weeks or months, he said.

Lankford said the Obama administration should work more closely with the Mexican government to prevent immigrant children from entering the United States illegally. Although most of the children being housed at Fort Sill aren’t from Mexico, they came into the United States across the U.S.-Mexico border, he said.

“Twelve-year-olds are walking across the border,” Lankford said. “It’s fairly clear that the border is not secure.”

Online: The Oklahoman