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Oklahoma Republicans Hated When Obama Detained Migrants at an Army Base. They're Fine with Trump Doing It.

They objected when Obama did it, but that was then.

by Gaby Del Valle
Jun 14 2019, 5:23pm

For some Oklahoma Republicans, using the Fort Sill military base to house migrant kids was objectionable when Obama did it, but it’s fine now that Trump wants to. In fact, they’re even blaming Obama for making it “necessary.”

“Decades of immigration failures, made worse by the Obama administration, have created such a crisis on the southern border that it is necessary to turn to military resources to assist unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America,” Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe said in a press release. When Barack Obama used Fort Sill for the same purpose in 2014, Inhofe and several fellow GOPers blasted the then-president, saying it would “impede on the base’s vital responsibility to house and train new recruits.”

Not anymore, apparently. “I have spoken to the Trump administration and local base officials and am confident that, unlike 2014, there is an organized, responsible plan for temporarily housing unaccompanied minors at Fort Sill that will not have an adverse impact to readiness on the missions at Fort Sill,” Inhofe’s statement continues.

The Trump administration confirmed its plan to use part of Fort Sill as a temporary shelter for about 1400 unaccompanied migrant kids on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the Administration of Children and Families’ Department of Health of Human Services told VICE News that the arrival date of the children isn’t set yet. The administration has repeatedly said that the licensed shelters most migrant children are sent to after arriving in the U.S. are nearly at capacity due to a steady increase of unaccompanied minors at the border in recent months.

When asked for clarification on the differences between the Trump and Obama administrations’ use of the base for the same purpose, Inhofe’s spokesperson Leacy Burke told VICE News that the senator had been assured that the shelter would only be used temporarily. “[The Department of Defense] has also secured a memorandum of understanding with [the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the agency charged with caring for child migrants] to ensure that any funds expended by DOD in connection with this mission are reimbursed by HHS,” Burke said in an email. “This will preserve precious resources for our men and women in uniform.”

In 2018, though, the Trump administration considered using military resources to house detained migrants, Reuters reported. Trump reportedly asked the Pentagon to build new facilities specifically for migrants.

Inhofe isn’t the only Oklahoma Republican who criticized Obama for using Fort Sill as a shelter and now supports Trump’s decision to do so.

In 2014, Sen. James Lankford, who was in the House at the time, called on the Obama administration to deport the children who arrived at the border. Like Inhofe, he issued a press release supporting Trump’s decision on Wednesday. Inhofe’s office did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.

Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas also criticized the Obama administration’s use of the base in 2014. “Military bases such as Fort Sill have stepped up to temporarily house thousands of unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America,” he said at the time. “However, the Obama Administration cannot continue to rely on such facilities as a long-term solution to illegal immigration.”

Patrick Bond, a spokesperson for Lucas, told VICE News that the congressman never opposed Obama’s use of the base as a shelter — but he did say the administration was relying on shelters in military bases as a long-term solution, something he claims Trump isn’t doing.

But the Fort Sill shelter was only used temporarily during the Obama administration. The Obama administration announced its plan to use part of the base as an emergency shelter in June 2014. Just two months later, Politico reported that the Obama administration had expanded its network of licensed shelters and, as a result, would begin phasing out the use of Fort Sill and two other military bases — an Air Force base in Texas and a California Naval base.

By August 2014, approximately 190 migrant kids were held at Fort Sill, which had the capacity for 1,200, according to the Politico report. Between May and June 2014, the HHS, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement, took in nearly 20,000 unaccompanied children. Slightly fewer than 5,500 kids were in HHS care by August.

As Politico noted at the time, the sharp drop in the number of children in ORR custody shows how quickly the Obama administration worked to process and release the migrant children to their sponsors — another policy that was criticized by Republicans, who claimed the asylum-seeking children would skip their court dates if released. Meanwhile, lawyers who work with detained children have told VICE News that the Trump administration has slowed down the reunification process, forcing child migrants to stay in government shelters for longer periods of time.

And the Obama administration also reimbursed the DOD for the costs of holding migrant kids at Fort Sill and two other bases. “In 2014 and again in 2016, we entered into [memoranda of understanding] with DOD which expressly provided that DOD would not bear any costs of making their facilities available for the shelters,” Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute who served as the assistant secretary of the Administration of Children and Families of HHS, told VICE News.

Unlike immigrant advocates, Oklahoma Republicans didn’t oppose Obama’s use of Fort Sill or other military bases on humanitarian grounds — instead, they claimed they didn’t want military resources being used to shelter migrant kids. But now that Trump is doing the same thing, it seems just fine.

Cover: UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 2: Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., followed by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., walk to the Senate Republicans' lunch in the Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)