As one of America’s premier military installations, Fort Sill continuously accepts and trains hundreds of new U.S. Army recruits. After graduating from Fort Sill’s 10-week basic training course, these soldiers go on to help keep the nation safe and freedoms secure — all with skills they learned in Oklahoma. But in June, new neighbors arrived on the post.
Due to an alarming spike in unaccompanied alien children (UAC) crossing the border illegally, the Obama administration saw an opportunity to use empty barracks at Fort Sill slated for renovations and turn them into UAC housing. While the contract between the Department of Health and Human Services and Fort Sill states that the stay is temporary, the administration has a poor history of abiding by its promises.
In 2012, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland was asked to house UAC for 30 days. The administration then asked the Department of Defense to extend it another 30 days. Earlier this year, the administration again asked the U.S. military at Lackland to house UAC. Within one week, the request for housing capacity more than tripled and expanded to more military bases.
President Barack Obama has already decimated the military with budget cuts and the lack of overall strategy; now he’s asking them to do more. Last week, we learned the administration hopes to use military installations until January 2015 and increase the capacity for thousands more children.
While the initial agreement at Fort Sill only requests UAC housing for 120 days, nothing would require the children to be relocated after that. The president could merely extend the stay and force Fort Sill to identify a new building. Obama’s temporary solution is beginning to look more permanent. The administration’s inconsistent instructions for Fort Sill have made it frustratingly difficult for members of Congress to conduct due oversight.
The military is being instructed to shoulder this burden because it will always rise to the occasion. When called upon, our military has time and again taken care of migrants and refugees with excellence. When thousands were left homeless after an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida served as a port of embarkation for survivors. In 1999, Fort Dix in New Jersey temporarily housed thousands of refugees when war broke out in Kosovo.
These temporary situations bear no resemblance to the administration’s current demands. Fort Sill’s barracks weren’t built to become permanent holding facilities for people with no legal reason to be in the United States. Unlike the situations mentioned above, this crisis is of the president’s making. His policies and campaign tactics have communicated a promise of amnesty to families in Central America.
Not only does this disrupt and destabilize these countries, it also encourages families to entrust their children to dangerous cartels with a known history of bringing drugs into our country.
Rather than simply throwing money at the problem and demanding help from our strapped military, the president must address the reason for the sharp increase in UAC. He owes it not only to our military but also to these vulnerable children to abandon campaign rhetoric and confront his policy failure head-on.
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is Oklahoma’s senior U.S. senator. Cole, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District.