Debunking myths about migrant children at Ft. Sill

NOTE: This article was published in 2014 when Ft. Sill was first used to detain migrant children and has not been updated to reflect the detention of migrant children at Ft. Sill in 2019.

As most Oklahomans have heard and seen on the news, there are currently between 1,000 and 1,500 migrant children being housed in dormitories on Fort Sill, an Army base in southwestern Oklahoma near Lawton (among other places across the country). The vast majority are from three Central American countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

The response by federal agencies has been swift and represents a coordinated effort between agencies with very different missions and mandates – from the U.S. Border Patrol, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Military to Health and Human Services (HHS). The children are currently being cared for by the Administration for Children and Families (a division of HHS) with the assistance of countless volunteers working on behalf of churches and charities.

These children’s entry into the U.S. and into Oklahoma has sparked a large amount of commentary and speculation about their situation. In the hopes of providing some clarity for Oklahomans interested in these developments, this post responds to some common misconceptions about who they are, why they came, and what’s being done.

Myth: They came here because of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival)

Most migrant children are coming to the U.S. because of extreme and escalating violence in their home countries. Data on civilian casualties from the United Nations show that Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were twice as deadly for civilians in 2012 than Iraq at the height of the war.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, is a temporary stay of deportation granted to those who were brought into the U.S. as children more than seven years ago.  It does not grant legal status, citizenship, or special privileges and it does not apply to those crossing the border today.  

It’s a moot point anyway, because the children entering the U.S. from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras qualify for a de facto stay of deportation under a different law passed over a decade ago by the Bush administration (more on that below). One researcher reported, “In only one of 400-plus interviews did a child migrant ask about the DREAM Act and immigration reform.”

According to researchers who have been studying child migration from South and Central America to the US,  “pull” factors like specific characteristics of the US that make it attractive are far less important than “push” factors – namely, the violence and economic unrest in their countries of origin.  As one teenager told a reporter, “I wasn’t really looking for the American dream…I just wanted to get far away.”  Furthermore, other countries that offer no such temporary stay of deportation as DACA – Mexico, Panama, Belize, Nicaragua, and others – are seeing a substantial uptick in child refugees

Myth: The Obama administration is stalling deportation

The Obama administration has actually deported record numbers of immigrants.  It is true that the number of children being deported has reached a record low, but that’s because increasing numbers of kids are coming from countries where immediate deportations aren’t permissible under U.S. law.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, signed by President George W. Bush, changed the policies and procedures for handling unaccompanied migrant children. succinctly explains the changes enacted under TVPRA:

Section 235, entitled “Enhancing Efforts to Combat the Trafficking of Children,” requires humane treatment of minors crossing the border from foreign nations. It also mandates “safe and secure placements,” calling for careful consideration when placing unaccompanied minors in residences within the United States.  The law lays out one procedure for child immigrants from contiguous countries, like Mexico and Canada, and another for children from noncontiguous countries, like El Salvador or Honduras.  

Child immigrants from contiguous countries are processed for immediate return to their home country. In all other cases, the children are placed under the responsibility of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. These children are placed with family or in other residences while they await their immigration court date.

Myth: Deportation would help stop future migration

Not necessarily.  This is a refugee crisis, not an immigration wave.  If a child or family has already risked the dangerous journey to the border and have been returned to the same circumstances they were fleeing, all available evidence says they’ll flee again.  

That’s because this isn’t about voluntary migration, which has fallen to an all time low in the United States.  There are fewer undocumented immigrants here today than there were in 2007. According to, “the number of undocumented immigrants remains high, but illegal immigration — the number of new undocumented workers entering the country each year — has fallen close to zero. On a net basis — people entering minus those leaving or being deported — illegal immigration was probably negative between 2007 and 2012.”  

Myth: These children made it to the US because we haven’t secured the border

Photo by David Dennis
Photo by David Dennis

On a recent visit to the Ft. Sill facility, Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine lamented, “We need to secure the border. The law requires a 100% control over the southern border. The Government Accountability Office said we only have 44% control over the southern border.”  Rep. Bridenstine’s comment is especially misleading because the children are not passing through an insecure border undetected; they are detained immediately by authorities.  If the border wasn’t secure, we wouldn’t have thousands of children in custody.

The US-Mexico border is one of the longest in the world, and much of it is uninhabitable desert.  The cost in time, money and manpower it would take to truly ‘secure’ or seal this border with staff or a physical barrier would be astronomical – $28 billion a year at least according to the Department of Justice.  This is much, much more than the cost to care for the children in our custody and reunite them with their families.

Myth: The children are a public health risk

Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Ritze has called for the children at Fort Sill to be quarantined and for the governor to declare a catastrophic health emergency. Rep. Ritze has specifically said that he is “concerned about the possibility of communicable diseases being carried by a population that does not have the same vaccination requirements as in the U.S.”

In reality, the risk of disease is wildly overstated. Despite near-“failed state” status, countries in Central America nonetheless manage higher vaccination rates than many states in the US. UNICEF reports that 93 percent of kids in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are vaccinated against measles. In Oklahoma, it’s 90.5 percent

Furthermore, many of the other diseases the kids are accused of carrying, such as lice and scabies, are characteristic of large numbers of people in close contact in confined spaces – not to particular groups or countries. In the US, for example, lice spreads in college dorms, kindergartens, and movie theaters. Even selfies can allegedly spread lice. But no one’s suggesting banning any of those, or quarantining carriers.

Myth: We can’t afford more immigrants

Caring for refugee migrant children ($3.7 billion) is certainly less expensive than sealing the border ($28 billion), not to mention that the U.S. benefits enormously from immigration.  Immigrants have been a boon to our labor force, tax base, and social and cultural life.  Think also for a moment about the human cost of turning away refugees at the border.  These children are fleeing life-threatening violence, and turning them away may well result in their deaths.

What happens next?

It depends. Some of the children undoubtedly should qualify for asylum, but deportation rates for children vary tremendously depending on whether the child has a lawyer . The ACLU is currently suing the federal government for its failure to provide the children with adequate legal representation. Immigration courts are hugely understaffed, with a backlog of about two years, and Congress has thus far denied President Obama’s request for more funding to reduce the backlog.

For the moment, the children at Fort Sill appear to be happy, well-cared for, and healthy. Nevertheless, Gov. Fallin has launched an online petition on her campaign website calling for the closure of the Ft. Sill facility and all federal sites set up to temporarily house migrant children.

A bipartisan push to amend TVPRA and allow Central American migrant children to be deported by the same rules as Mexican children is gaining traction in Washington and has President Obama’s support. Unfortunately, there is strong evidence that the current deportation process for Mexican children is failing to protect the children from harm — and the violence and unrest in Central America is substantially worse than the danger in Mexico.


46 thoughts on “Debunking myths about migrant children at Ft. Sill

      1. I have had experience with catholic charities and they bring families to the US and provide support for three months. The families I had contact with still didn’t know the language and were unable to work or support their kids. when I tried to get help, they didn’t have anyone that spoke their language. It seemed that there was no follow through to help them become productive citizens of the US.

  1. Thank you for setting the record straight. I’m passing this on. I get so tired of all the misinformation out there.

  2. Just nitpicking but FEMA is an agency not an association. Great information though! I’ll be showing this to my American Government students.

  3. What about the drug cartels and teen gang members that are invading along with these children? I have spoken with a soldier stationed at Fort Sill and the threat of these people is very real. There is more entering our country than innocent 3rd world children looking to escape violence. The violence is following them here.

    1. You have GOT to be kidding me! It’s scared, small minded people like you that make me wonder what happened to this country. Try reading the credo engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty; you know, the one that says”Give me your tired, huddled masses yearning to be free….”. The posturing by the politicians is especially galling. If Americans can’t show basic, decent humanity then we have gone down the Devil’s highway.

      1. Oops, Bruce. No name calling please. It is interesting how often insults take the place of logical reasoning.

    2. The children are not the gang members. They are fleeing from gang violence in their home countries. The Central American gangs arose from gang members who came from the United States.

    3. Sorry, but I’m retired Bureau of Prisons. Many of the MS13 STARTED and young teens. Being young doesn’t mean some of them are not already indoctrinated.

  4. I wish a part of this debunking would also be showing the types of kids that are coming, their ages and so on. Part of the lying propaganda of the haters out there is a facebook poster with a visual image of some nice latino kids with the caption, “what the liberals want you to believe” and then a picture of some older latino gang-bangers, covered in tattoos, flashing gang signs with the caption, “This is the reality.”

    The picture you have at the top is nice, but some demographics on age, sex and so on, as well as some groups pics would be nice. Anything to help debunk the idea that we’re housing a bunch of gang-bangers

  5. If you want to claim our economy benefits from illegal immigration, I disagree with you. People desperate for jobs and willing to work for less than our citizens depress wages and living conditions across our country.

    What you see are border towns pleading with Washington to be reimbursed for the social and economic costs of the southern invasion. Money that could be used to help our own citizens is diverted because other countries lack the will to control crime there.

    These children are a separate subject. Humanitarian aid is necessary to assist them in finding a permanent home, whether it is here or abroad. We need to follow our own laws and those require legal assistance for these refugees.

    1. For better or worse, our Federalist system (the system designed to preserve so-called “state’s rights”) places the responsibility for disbursing that kind of money onto the states. (I.e., with rights come responsibilities.)

      So if the border country social services suffer from illegal immigrants, it’s not the Fed’s fault — it’s Texas’s.

      1. With respect to “it’s not the Fed’s fault — it’s Texas’.”, I believe these are all statements of fact:

        – Social services of several states (not just Texas) are being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.
        – Attempts have been made by states to enhance security of the border.
        – These attempts are hammered down by the US DOJ (“The Fed”) – claiming sole responsibility for control of the border as the purview of the Fed.
        – The Fed (blame whichever party you want) refuses to take efforts to increase border security.

        I don’t intend to enter into a dialog or debate – this is likely my last post on this subject.

  6. THANK YOU! Now I just wish “they” would listen, but unfortunately, it doesn’t fit their agenda!!!

  7. What about children from Syria, Afghanistan, Irag, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya and all the rest of Africa, Why not Palistine and all the children in the Gaza strip? Why not the children in Pakistan who have not been vaccinated against or who have contracted polio? Why discriminate against the Muslim brotherhood by letting only the Latino benefit from failed US immigration law and border enforcement? Money is no object and seemingly of little concern to Americans, most likely those who can’t see the long term cost and detriment to the health, services and education and care of Children born here or whose families spent year trying to get here legally. Hell, why not let them all in. There are children out there who can make a better case than those in Central America. I think the aforementioned countries should place their children on airplanes and send them all to America. Once they get there the USA will vaccinate, clothe, feed and educate them. After all, once they land the USA with it’s failed immigration policy and total lack of will to enforce laws, overturn bad law and secure the borders, will not return them to their originating country. It’s gets harder and harder to read about the children haters who so willingly seem able to open their arms, vocalize support and reach into the pockets of someone else to help those in the Latino community but won’t lift a finger to help out our own children in the USA. I would like to see those who support this continued invasion of our country agree to pay a minimum 20% in taxes on gross income as a surtax at the end of the year. It would be elective of course. Maybe then we can afford to take all the children in without discrimination and it would give all the loud mouth liberal socialist do-gooders a chance to put their money where their mouth is.

      1. It’s not the liberal or do-gooders that bother me. It’s the socialist view that it’s Ok to spend someone else’s money to promote their beliefs and, like you, people who are not willing to put skin in the game. You can make the same 30% contribution I make to help the illegal immigrants by sending a check to the US Treasury, anytime. But most self righteous braggarts who profess to have the interests of illegal immigrant children at heart won’t do it and neither will you.

        1. “Socialist view”… LOL… like public parks, libraries, roads, school districts, police force, fire department…. etc. Bet ya didn’t know.

        2. I believe that the war in Iraq was illegal, yet the gov’t spent my money on that. As a matter of fact, about half of my(and yours) income tax goes to the Pentagon and less than 1% goes to humanitarian causes. I think that that is criminal.

        3. And YOU know how much skin I have in the game AND how much I pay in taxes. Fuck…you are an idiot savant

        4. Every voter in the US makes a judgement call on how everyone’s tax dollars should be spent. I assume that most people want their money to go toward something that they believe in. Wasn’t that the point of “Build the wall!”? Had that actually occurred, then yes, my money would be put towards something that I didn’t personally believe in. My money would have been used to promote someone else’s beliefs. How are the “wall-chanters” any different than the “liberal do-gooders” in this regard? I doubt the wall-wanters view themselves as socialists for wanting to use my tax dollars to build a wall that promotes their beliefs.

    1. “What about children from Syria, Afghanistan, Irag, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya and all the rest of Africa,”

      First of all, kindly explain how children from these regions you have mentioned will get to the United States.

      I was going to finish reading the rest of your post, but your first line alone just shows that logic is not one of your strengths.

    2. We could start with the fact that none of those kids are arriving here in large numbers every day.

      As noted, the fact that the kids are coming has nothing whatsoever to do with US immigration law. It has to do with the fact that we don’t shoot children when they surrender to the law.

      If that’s what you’d like to change, I wish you’d come clean and say so.

    3. What “invasion” do you speak of? I think if the United States can survive Irish refugees, Italian refugees, Jewish refugees, Vietnamese refugees, Cuban refugees, Haitian refugees, Iraqi refugees, etc, etc, etc, we’ll survive Central American refugees. I’d rather see our tax dollars spent on people in such dire straights than used to bail out or prop up large corporations like GM.

    4. We used to be a place where children were welcome no matter where they came from. We have become a country of armed cowards and frightened blowhards. We act like fools at the smallest provocation from the GOP and Republican spin doctors hellbent first and foremost on publicly attacking its own leadership and ours. We wonder why the world views us as weak, self indulgent and corrupt? Obama isn’t the one who is showing weak, WE are. As a country we are weakened by having obviously abandoned our values and completely lost our bearing. Treating ANYONE with such acrimonious disrespect, inappropriate defiance and fear as we have seen directed toward our own leaders and now these children by the jaded media, while it misreports the whole truth in the name of free speech and political correctness, THAT is what is weak.
      Celia has the best term for your state of mind- idiot savant – love it.

  8. 28 billion dollars a year to truly secure the border is a lot less than what we’re paying out in benefits to illegals.

    1. “28 billion dollars a year to truly secure the border is a lot less than what we’re paying out in benefits to illegals.”

      You got a list of these benefits? Please do share. Thank you.

    2. What about what they pay??? All the billions of dollars that they give to the country??? The money that are taken from their checks and they won’t ever be able to have such a Medicare reduction? There are plenty of research that shows how much money the government gets from this undocumented people!

      1. … and that’s not even considering the money that american businesses (and private citizens) SAVE by hiring undocumented workers, which then gets plowed back into the local economy!

        (FWIW, since most people / businesses who hire undocumented workers are relatively small, most of the savings DO go back into the local economy.)

        And then there’s the money these folks spend locally. Lots of small-business economies in areas where migrants work are dependent on the seasonal migrant spending.

  9. By the way illegals can not get any benefits honey!!! American citizens are the ones that gets benefits, children born in the USA! Before u comment something u should research!!! Undocumented people has not benefits , no social security no food stamps, no Medicaid !!! Read …

    1. Sorry…you are dead wrong! I have a rent house right next door to me that has been rented out to illegals and they DO get US benefits! First thing one family did (out of 16 that moved into that house) was want to know where the county hospital was and where to go to get the food stamps! One little girl was taken to hospital ER and was taken care of (by taxpayers). My husband hired 2 of the teens to put shingles on our roof, as he was reroofing it. They didn’t ‘feel like’ going out to the cotton fields 2 days (they said) but worked for 2 hrs lifting the shingles onto our roof. They send the biggest part of their checks on rent, food and the rest goes BACK to Mexico, what time they are here. ALL 3 families of them had brand new pickups setting over there and campers on two. Better vehicles than what we have. I was raised with some of these people in New Mexico…I KNOW the lies they tell to get on govt. assistance! Don’t try and tell me they can’t get it…THEY CAN AND DO!!!

      1. You cannot get SNAP benefits (food stamps), child care subsidies, or any public medical care assistance as an illegal immigrant unless you somehow fraudulently convince the government that you are legally in this country. Please read your state’s regulations.

        If the people you are referring to were LEGALLY in this country (by the way how would you know if they were here legally or not?) then they may have qualified. Some people who are here legally still do not qualify (for instance in Oklahoma if you are here from certain countries on a student visa you are not legally able to collect any government assistance).

        If they were here illegally and committed fraud and got benefits wrongfully then I guess you are really arguing for more state staff/resources so that they can better investigate each family that applies…

  10. I believe someone may be suffering from Botox (Botulinum Toxin Type A)…
    (It is not the children from Central America).

    The truth is… people are saying, “We are paying XXX Billion dollars”. My question is, WHO IS WE?
    Do you have a mouse in your pocket??? Do they even know who WE is?

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