LAWTON, Okla. (CN) – The Trump administration will open an emergency detention center at the Army’s Fort Sill in Oklahoma to house unaccompanied children as the government grapples with a spike in the number of asylum-seekers at the Mexican border.
Fort Sill will house up to 1,400 children as early as July, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Tuesday. The 150-year-old military base was used as an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.
The HHS said the base will be used as a “temporary emergency influx shelter” to prevent overcrowding at its 168 facilities and programs in 23 states. Fort Sill was last used as a shelter for immigrant children in 2014 under the Obama administration, for four months.
Officials said the children will be housed in “hard-sided” buildings rather than tents that have been criticized at other children’s camps.
The agency’s management of the de facto jails has been heavily criticized by Democrats, as at least seven children have died while in custody of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement or Customs and Border Protection. More than 13,000 children are in HHS custody.
The agency said it had taken approximately 40,900 children into custody through the end of April — a 57 percent increase from the previous year. It is on pace to surpass 2016’s record of 59,171 children in custody.
HHS said the latest spike in refugees at the border has caused approximately 2,000 children to wait at Border Patrol stations longer than an alleged 72-hour limit before they are transferred to a children’s camp. A record-setting 11,000 unaccompanied children arrived at the border in May, according to ABCNews. The children often spend weeks or months in temporary jail before they are placed with a sponsor.
The announcement came a week after HHS announced it will use an apartment complex in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that once housed oilfield workers to temporarily hold 1,600 children.
Congress has yet to approve the Trump administration’s request for $2.9 billion in emergency money to pay for the camps, resulting in agency cuts to education and recreation programs at the camps. The program is expected to run out of money within weeks.
HHS and Fort Sill officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday evening. Fort Sill is in Lawton, approximately 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.