WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Bridenstine said Monday that he wants “unfettered access” to the Fort Sill facility housing unaccompanied alien children, and he criticized the media tour scheduled for Thursday at the U.S. Army post in southwestern Oklahoma.
Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, who was denied access to the facility when he arrived last week without an appointment, has been offered a tour on Saturday. He sent a letter to an official with the Department of Health and Human Services saying he’d accept the tour but that he planned to make recurring visits.
He wrote in his letter, to Sonja Nesbitt, a deputy assistant secretary, that it was “unacceptable that a representative of the people be limited to pre-planned, showcase visits to a facility so critical to the well-being of children. Just as foster parents in the State of Oklahoma are subject to unannounced visits by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, federal representatives of the people should be able to access UAC facilities at times of their choosing.”
In an interview, Bridenstine said he wasn’t seeking a confrontation at the Fort Sill facility, but he insisted that he be allowed to see what is happening.
“If they want a confrontation, they can create one,” he said.
Fort Sill is one of three U.S. military bases being used for temporary housing as unaccompanied minors from central America stream across the border in ever-increasing numbers. Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, visited the facility two weeks ago.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Fort Sill, said Monday that members of Cole’s staff visited on June 20 and that a date is being arranged for the congressman to visit in August.
The Fort Sill facility can hold up to 1,200 children and had 1,001 on June 25, according to a memo from the Obama administration to U.S. lawmakers. The other two military bases — one in Texas and one in California — are also near capacity.
The Health and Human Services Department sent media members an advisory on Monday stating that a tour of the Fort Sill facility would be held Thursday but that no recording devices, questions or interaction would be allowed.
“The purpose of this 40-minute tour is to show members of the press the interior of the shelter and explain the care we provide while these children remain in our custody,” the advisory states. “The tour guide will detail what goes on from room to room and the services youth are provided on a daily basis.”