The Army base in Fort Sill, Oklahoma will soon be used as a temporary shelter to house migrant children, adding to the base’s history of being a place where people the U.S. government viewed as undesirable are kept.
According to a recent statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Fort Sill will be a “temporary emergency influx shelter” for unaccompanied immigrant children who were detained after crossing the U.S./Mexico border until those children can be assigned to an adult relative. The move to the base in the southern part of Oklahoma is meant to ease the burden on overcrowded immigrant shelters closer to the border.
Fort Sill has been involved in every major U.S. conflict since 1869, making the 150-year-old base one of the oldest still in operation anywhere in the United States. But Fort Sill also has a long history as a detention facility. Apache leader Geronimo and his soldiers were kept there as prisoners of war in the late 1800s after previously being transferred from prisons in Florida and Alabama. And during World War II, Fort Sill was used by the Roosevelt administration to house approximately 700 Japanese American citizens who had not been formally charged with crimes. The Densho Encyclopedia — which chronicles the history of Japanese internment during WWII — described some of the horrific conditions its residents faced at the time:
In April 1942 windstorms blew so strong that internees often stayed up all night to prevent their tents from collapsing. The internees also suffered through 100 degree temperatures during the summer with no shade to escape the heat. Fort Sill was run in strict military fashion. The guard towers were equipped with 30-caliber machine guns, shotguns, and searchlights. The internees slept in four-man tents and were forbidden from resting during the day. On May 13, 1942, a mentally ill internee was shot dead by guards who claimed he was trying to escape.
Earlier this year, the tent city in Tornillo, Texas — which previously held more than 6,000 immigrant children — was shut down. However, thousands of immigrant children are still being detained at various HHS facilities in and around the border. While it isn’t known if the conditions the children are facing at these facilities are better or worse than those faced by Native American and Japanese detainees, The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump administration has cancelled English classes, soccer, and legal aid services for unaccompanied immigrant children in U.S. custody. This suggests the children being detained have little else to do other than wait to be reunited with a family member.
According to HHS, the federal government has detained 40,900 immigrant children this year as of April 30. That marks a 57% increase from this point last year, according to Time. Children detained at Fort Sill will be overseen by HHS staff, rather than U.S. troops, and will be kept in quarters separate from the population living full-time on the military base.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.