Perhaps the most striking thing about the immigration shelter here that is currently housing more than a thousand youth is the military efficiency.
Everything — from the number of pairs of underwear (three pairs) a child is issued to the number of phone calls (two 10 minute phone calls a week) — is tightly regulated. Each employee wears a color associated with his or her duty. Childcare workers wear blue. Medical personnel where black scrubs. Custodians wear gray shirts.
Everything is meant to facilitate efficiency among the 1,000 to 1,200 children that live in the center, a pod of four, three-story barrack buildings.
In the background as immigrant children jumped rope and played soccer, one couldn’t help but notice the sounds of artillery exploding as the grownups continued their daily training operations.
Fort Sill is one of three military bases across the country that are housing these children —ages 12 to 17 — as they leave their families mostly in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, to make a run for the United States border — alone — in hopes of a better life here. The lucky ones make it the U.S.-Mexico border where they’re picked up and taken to facilities like the ones at Fort Sill to give the federal government time to find the children’s guardians or a sponsor to house them while immigration proceedings play out in court. The unlucky meet worse fates — like death.
Even the media’s first opportunity to tour of the facility Thursday was tightly controlled, by prior agreement. No recording devices or questions during the tour were allowed.
Since the facility opened for the first time in mid-June, children housed at Fort Sill stay for an average of 15 days before being discharged or transferred.
Officials said 566 youth have been transferred or discharged so far since June 14.
While about 75 percent of all children picked up nationally alone are boys, the Fort Sill facility split is about 50 percent girls and 50 percent boys.