The Obama administration is shutting down the three emergency shelters for illegal immigrant children it opened on military bases, health officials said Monday in another sign that the federal government is getting a handle on the surge of Central Americans trying to jump the U.S. border.
It’s a major reversal for the Health and Human Services Department, which a few weeks ago was considering 5,000 more beds on military bases and signed a $190 million deal with Baptist Child and Family Services to care for children at the facilities.
The shelter at Fort Sill in Oklahoma will be closed by the end of this week, and two others in California and Texas will shutter in two to eight weeks, the administration said.
Children will be sent to private shelters throughout the country, but the moves could rub raw nerves in neighborhoods where residents have raised protest.
More than 7,700 children went through the facilities at the three military bases, and HHS still has 5,500 children in its care, a spokesman said.
The department wouldn’t give a breakdown of the number of children at each facility and refused to release the locations of the approximately 100 private shelters with which it has contracts.
Some initial efforts, such as renting a shuttered college in Virginia, were blocked by local protests. The military bases seemed obvious choices because they could avoid local input.
Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said military bases were always bad fits for both sides. Legislation against the use of military bases for sheltering illegal immigrants passed the House last week as part of a package of bills designed to halt the surge of children and families.
Senators have failed to pass their own bill, however, leaving Mr. Obama to manage the situation through August without any new resources or legal powers.