July 28 (UPI) -- Plans for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to house unaccompanied migrant children at an Oklahoma army base have been placed "on hold," federal officials said.
HHS plans to house 1,600 migrant children between the ages of 13 and 16 at the Fort Sill army base have been shelved due to decreased migrant crossings and increased rates of placing unaccompanied minors with sponsors, a representative for Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told Oklahoma news station KOKH. A spokeswoman for HHS confirmed the news.
Inhofe's representative told the network that HHS has enough space to house all unaccompanied minors without having to use the facility at Fort Sill, but the base could still be used as a temporary housing facility if conditions change in the future.
Fort Sill was designated as a temporary shelter to help the Office of Refugee Resettlement -- an HHS department responsible for custody of migrant children -- but HHS said referrals have decreased in recent weeks, an official said in a statement to Newsweek.
"Over the last several weeks HHS has experienced a decrease in Department of Homeland Security referrals of unaccompanied alien children," HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said. "Additionally, HHS has been placing UAC with sponsors at a historically high rate. As such, the UAC program does not have an immediate need to place children in influx facilities."
Stauffer added, however, that the base will remain on "warm status," meaning baseline operations will continue in order to maintain its availability "in the event of an increase in UAC referrals or an emergency situation."
Fort Sill housed more than 1,000 migrant children in 2014 under President Barack Obama's administration.
The announcement that the base would again be used to house migrant children was met with protests from groups who noted it was previously used as an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.