Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, said he was denied access Tuesday to the Fort Sill facility housing unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed the U.S. border.
Bridenstine made a visit to the Health and Human Services Department facility at the U.S. Army post in southwestern Oklahoma and was told he couldn’t enter and should email an HHS official to make an appointment. He was told July 21 would be the earliest date he could visit.
Gov. Mary Fallin and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, visited the facility on June 20.
Bridenstine said, “There is no excuse for denying a federal representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held.
“Any member of Congress should have the legal authority to visit a federal youth detention facility without waiting three weeks.”
Bridenstine said he visited the base commander and approached the barracks where the children are housed.
” A new fence has been erected by HHS, completely surrounding the barracks and covered with material to totally obscure the view,” he said. “Every gate is chained closed.
“I approached a security guard and asked to speak with the manager of the facility. The guard called his supervisor who said no visitors were allowed. I asked if they were aware that I am a Member of Congress. Eventually the manager came out and said that I would have to go through HHS legislative affairs and that the first chance to visit would be July 21st.
“What are they trying to hide? Do they not want the children to speak with Members of Congress? As a Navy pilot, I have been involved in operations countering illicit human trafficking. I would like to know to whom these children are being released.”
A statement issued Wednesday by the Administration for Children and Families at the Health and Human Services Department says:
“We have been facilitating tours of our temporary shelters at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Naval Base Ventura County-Port Hueneme and Fort Sill as frequently as possible without disrupting our ability to properly care for the children as part of this humanitarian situation.
“In addition to four media tours, HHS has provided five tours for approximately 55 local, state and federal elected officials who had requested the opportunity to observe the facilities, meet the staff and interact with the children.
“We will continue to schedule these tours of temporary shelters on a regular basis with any officials who request them.”
Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin, said Wednesday that the governor’s visit on June 20 followed an invitation from the Health and Human Services Department.
“However, the governor has the same concerns about transparency that Congressman Bridenstine has,” Weintz said. “They would not allow her or our staff to take pictures. They barred access _ and continue to Bar access _ the media. We have requested they allow reporters in.”