Gov't closing emergency child immigrant shelters

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Gov't closing emergency child immigrant shelters
A sign is pictured at Scott Gate, one of the entrances to Fort Sill, in Fort Sill, Okla., in this June 17, 2014 photo. Federal officials have allowed members of the media to tour a temporary shelter at Fort Sill that is being used to house more than 1,000 teenage immigrants from Central America. Participants in tours Thursday, July 10, 2014 were heavily restricted and prohibited from taking pictures, asking questions or interacting with staff or children at the shelter. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
A vehicle drives by a sign at Scott Gate, one of the entrances to Fort Sill, in Fort Sill, Okla., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. The temporary housing of hundreds of immigrant children at Fort Sill and the influx of workers to take care of them could infuse millions of dollars into the local economy, city leaders said. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Lawton Fort Still Chamber of Commerce president Barry Albrecht answers a question during an interview in his office in Lawton, Okla., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. 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. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Shay Moss, a 30-year-old contract worker at Fort Sill who lives in Lawton, answers a question during an interview in Lawton, Okla., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Moss said said she wasn’t aware the government was housing immigrant children on the Army base. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
This undated photo provided by the Fort Sill Public Affairs Department shows the building that will house between 600 and 1,200 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America at Fort Sill, Okla. The building, built in 1986, has 20 sleeping bays that hold 60 beds each. The building was last occupied by soldiers in April. (AP Photo/Fort Sill Public Affairs)
This photo provided by the Fort Sill Public Affairs Department shows the building that will house between 600 and 1,200 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America at Fort Sill, Okla. The building, built in 1986, has 20 sleeping bays that hold 60 beds each. The building was last occupied by soldiers in April. (AP Photo/Fort Sill Public Affairs)
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By ALICIA A. CALDWELL

WASHINGTON (AP) - The government said Monday it will soon close three emergency shelters it established at U.S. military bases to temporarily house children caught crossing the Mexican border alone. It said fewer children were being caught and other shelters will be adequate.

A shelter in Oklahoma at Fort Sill is expected to close as early as Friday, the Health and Human Services Department said. Shelters in Texas at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and in California at Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme will wrap up operations in the next two to eight weeks, agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said. About 7,700 children had been housed at the three military bases since shelters there opened in May and early June. They stayed an average of 35 days.

Since Oct. 1 more than 57,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been caught crossing the Mexican border illegally.

A 2008 law requires that unaccompanied child immigrants from countries that don't border the United States be handed over to the Health and Human Services Department within 72 hours of being apprehended. The children are cared for by the government until they can be reunited with a relative or another sponsor in the United States while they await a deportation hearing in immigration court.

The crush of Central American children caught at the border in recent months has strained resources across the government and prompted President Barack Obama to ask Congress to approve an emergency $3.7 billion spending bill to deal with what he described as a humanitarian crisis. Just before leaving town for the August recess, the House approved a pair of bills that would provide the administration with $694 million and end a program that protects some young immigrants from deportation for up to two years.

Obama objected, saying Republican lawmakers of "not even trying to solve the problem."

The Senate had blocked its version of the border bill, leaving the problem unresolved before Congress left Washington for its five-week summer recess.

Last month, the Homeland Security Department reported that the number of child immigrants crossing the border alone had started to decline, from as many as 2,000 each week in June to about 500 each week in mid-July. Administration officials said at the time that multiple factors likely contributed to the decline.

The number of people caught crossing the border illegally typically declines during the hottest summer months.

Administration officials have said as many 90,000 child immigrants could cross the border by the end of the budget year in September.

The military base shelters could reopen if the number of young border crossers spikes again in the near future, Wolfe said.

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