Some officials say a southern Oklahoma city saw economic benefits from a facility that processed children who entered the country unaccompanied.
Federal officials say more than 1,800 unaccompanied immigrant children came through Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma before the facility closed earlier this month. It opened in June.
A 2008 law requires that unaccompanied child immigrants from countries that don't border the U.S. be handed over to federal officials within 72 hours of being apprehended.
CEO and president Barry Albrecht of the Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corp. tells The Journal Record Lawton saw a significant bump to its businesses from Fort Sill workers.
“There wasn’t much political noise coming from the community in this case,” said Barry Albrecht, CEO and president of the Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corp. “We are not in the federal policymaking business.
“It’s well-known that Lawton is one of the most patriotic cities in the country,” he said. “We support Fort Sill. And whatever mission our military installation is tasked with, we’re going to provide support to them. And for three months, it filled up a lot of hotel rooms here.”
But an Oklahoma Tax Commission spokeswoman says it's too early to say what the economic impact was in Lawton.
Merchants typically remit sales tax revenues to the agency about 20 days after the end of each month, and then it takes several more weeks for the Tax Commission to send checks back to the cities.
The Lawton-Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce saw positive signs.
“We know our hoteliers, for example, experienced a surge, and that was good news,” said President and CEO Debra Welch. “At times they were full and they struggled to provide enough rooms. I’m quite sure that our restaurants also experienced good business. There’s always a silver lining.
“The dark cloud is the fact that this issue – and there are always people on both sides of immigration – involved children,” she said. “We recognize that these kids’ parents risk a lot to get them to a country where they can live better lives. The struggle is in the political issue of what we should do on the political side and what will happen if we don’t take stronger action to keep it from happening.”
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