President Donald Trump’s administration will use a military base in Oklahoma, once used as an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II, as a temporary shelter for migrant children.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will operate the facility, said Fort Sill will be used to detain 1,400 migrant children. According to the agency, the base will be used “as a temporary emergency influx shelter.” The U.S. government already operates nearly 170 facilities and programs to house migrant children in 23 states.
When reached for comment, an Administration for Children and Families spokesperson said that the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement “is legally required to provide for the care and custody of all [unaccompanied child migrants] referred to ORR until they are released to appropriate sponsors, usually a parent or relative, while their immigration cases proceed.”
Fort Sill has long been used as an incarceration facility. In the late 1800s, Apache prisoners of war were moved to Fort Sill from other U.S. Army bases in Florida and Alabama. Native prisoners were told they would remain at Fort Sill indefinitely.
The base was later used to incarcerate nearly 700 Japanese immigrants in 1942, according to the Densho Encyclopedia. Descriptions of conditions at the camp were gruesome. Japanese prisoners sometimes lived in 100-degree weather with no escape from the hot temperatures. Guard towers “were equipped with 30-caliber machine guns, shotguns, and searchlights,” the encyclopedia notes.
In 2019, the Trump administration will use the base to house 1,400 migrant children starting as soon as July. The Obama administration used Fort Sill temporarily in 2014 for the same purposes after thousands of unaccompanied children crossed the border that year.
The Trump administration first considered housing migrant children at military bases last year as Trump’s Department of Homeland Security enacted a policy of family separation at the border.
HHS has already taken 40,900 migrant children into custody this year, a 57% increase from last year, the agency said in a statement. At least six migrant children have died in government custody or after being released from custody since last fall.
Immigration rights advocates and Democratic representatives have blamed the Trump administration for its “cruel and inhumane” treatment of immigrants.