- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) - The temporary housing of hundreds of immigrant children at Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma and the influx of workers to take care of them could infuse millions of dollars into the local economy, city leaders said.

Administration for Children and Families spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in an email Wednesday that 524 children were currently being held at Fort Sill. The children are mostly teenagers from Central America who were detained after trying to enter the U.S. illegally. They are among the more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors taken into custody at the border since October. Immigrant children are also being housed at facilities in Texas and California. Fort Sill said earlier that it will house the children for up to four months, or as long as directed.

“There are some federal staff overseeing the shelter’s operation, but almost all staff at the facility are contractors,” Wolfe said in the email. He did not say how many workers are at the facility, but The Oklahoman newspaper reported that Col. Glenn Waters told Lawton city officials during a city council meeting last week that the workers could have an economic impact of $1.2 million within the first 30 days.

Waters did not respond to a phone message and email from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“We know that there’s going to be an increase in business in rental car and hotels. We know that they are also looking at temporary office space around the community and we’re lucky enough to have those smaller square footage (office space buildings) available for those contractors,” said Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce president Barry Albrecht. He said his office is still analyzing the economic impact, but he thinks it could be as much as $3 million per month based on a multiplier effect.

“Lawton is probably one of the most patriotic communities I’ve ever lived in. We’re not just talking military. The defense contractors, the local business people here, it’s quite impressive,” he said.

But not everyone supports the plan. Oklahoma’s congressional delegation is among those who have come out against it.

Locally, residents in Lawton and Fort Sill workers said they are surprised by the government’s plan.

Shay Moss, a 30-year-old contract worker at Fort Sill who lives in Lawton, said she wasn’t even aware the government was housing the children on the Army base. She said she was surprised by the plan because people who work on the base usually have to have a security clearance.

Rebekah Powers, a 33-year-old dental assistant who works at Fort Sill, said news about the plan has been “hush hush,” but that she supports what the federal government is doing.

“They’re children. They need to be taken care of,” she said.

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