Mayor G.T. Bynum on Thursday threw his support behind an effort by Cherokee Nation Businesses to establish an emergency intake shelter for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the United States.
The temporary housing and support services program would operate out of five existing structures in the Cherokee Industrial Park, which is on tribal land.
“I had a good discussion with Cherokee Nation leadership this morning regarding the proposed facility,” Bynum said. “As they explained, this would be a location for short-term humanitarian relief provided to children who are refugees.”
Bynum noted that Tulsans have a long history of providing humanitarian relief for those in need from around the world.
This would not be the first time CNB has operated such a facility. It has run similar programs in northern Virginia and Pomona, California.
“I was impressed with the Cherokee Nation’s track record of operating similar facilities around the country and offered my support as they seek to aid children at a facility in our community,” Bynum said.
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Tim Roberts, senior vice president for Cherokee Nation Businesses, said the opportunity to provide humanitarian services is a deeply personal mission and a full-circle moment for the organization.
“We understand the trauma of this journey and the challenges these children face. We are a population of resettlement survivors and their descendants,” he said. “This work allows us to give hope to the vulnerable among us who need emergency services and compassionate care.”
The Los Angeles Times reported in 2021 that the CNB’s Pomona facility operated for six months, temporarily housing thousands of unaccompanied children and teenagers who arrived at the U.S-Mexico border, many of whom were escaping violence in Central America; at least 8,000 were reunited with family members or sponsors in the United States, according to the article.
Cherokee Nation Businesses officials say it’s too early to know how many young people could or would be temporarily housed at the Cherokee Industrial Park facility. But they noted that the complex potentially could be used to help people in nonimmigration-related emergencies such as floods, tornadoes and other natural disasters.
The CNB’s zoning application to the Tulsa County Board of Adjustment states that the unaccompanied minors would come from such places as Ukraine, South America and Afghanistan.
“The children are not placed in the local community unless, by coincidence, their sponsor family already resided locally,” the application states.
The application defines “temporary” housing as no more than eight months and states that the Cherokee Nation must move quickly to ensure that the program is in place.
The proposed facility at Cherokee Industrial Park could employ as many as 2,000 people. CNB officials said Thursday that those workers would provide a range of services, from case management to health care to education and recreation.
Typically, unaccompanied minors are reunited with family or a sponsor within two to three weeks, according to CNB.
Not every state elected official was as supportive of the proposed facility as Tulsa’s mayor. U.S. Sen. James Lankford and Gov. Kevin Stitt expressed strong opposition.
Lankford, a member of the Senate committee that oversees immigration, said the United States should be working to have fewer people enter the country illegally rather than facilitating more.
“I have visited multiple locations along the border where unaccompanied minors are detained for processing into the country and have seen firsthand the housing arrangements,” Lankford wrote on Twitter. “The Biden Administration spares no expense to facilitate the transition and entry of migrants into the United States.”
Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said Cherokee Nation leaders “are profiting off President Biden’s border crisis through backroom deals and secret contracts with no accountability.”
Cherokee Nation Businesses officials said the company was one of many that responded earlier this year to the federal government’s request for proposals to provide temporary housing and support services for children in need. No contract has been awarded.
Atchison said that “this project will do nothing but encourage more illegal immigration to our country and Governor Stitt strongly urges the Tulsa County Board of Adjustment to do what’s right for Oklahoma and stop this in its tracks.”
Chuck Garrett, CEO of Cherokee Nation Businesses, described the undertaking in different terms.
“This is an incredibly important humanitarian response that is focused on providing compassionate care to children in need and fulfilling the mission of our government partner,” he said.
The county Board of Adjustment meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in the St. Francis conference room of Williams Tower 1 at 1 W. Third St.