Three massive temporary shelters that have housed 7,700 unaccompanied immigrant youths at military bases in California, Oklahoma and Texas will close in the next eight weeks, government officials announced Monday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families opened the shelters in May and June to help house an influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the southern border since October, twice the number last year, mostly from Central America.
“We are able to take this step because we have proactively expanded capacity to care for children in standard shelters, which are significantly less costly facilities. At the same time, we have seen a decrease in the number of children crossing the Southwest border,” said a statement from department spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.
He said the shelter at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which housed up to 1,200 people, is expected to close by Friday. The other two – for up to 1,200 people at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas and up to 600 people at Naval Base Ventura County in California – will close in the next eight weeks, he said.
Instead of being sent to the bases, children apprehended on the border will be placed in about 100 smaller standard shelters and added “surge capacity” shelters, although Wolfe noted that the military bases could reopen if the flow increased again.
“There remains substantial uncertainty about the future flows of unaccompanied children,” he said. “The three temporary shelters on military bases could be reopened for a limited time if the number of children increases significantly.”
Once unaccompanied Central American youths are apprehended at the border, by law they must be turned over by the Border Patrol to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours.
They are then held at shelters until Health and Human Services can place them with sponsors, usually parents or relatives, whom they stay with until their immigration cases are resolved.
The average amount of time it takes to place youths with sponsors has decreased during the last month from 35 to 30 days, Wolfe said.