On Wednesday, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) sent out a press release chronicling his recent trip to a facility maintained by the department of Health and Human Services established to house up to 1,200 unaccompanied alien children (UAC) who crossed the southern border illegally. Bridenstine’s trip was a short one, however, as the congressman was denied access to the facility by an HHS official.
Bridenstine asserted that he attempted to contact Ken Wolfe, HHS’s deputy director of the office of public affairs, in order to express his frustration over being denied access to Ft. Sill, a facility in the congressman’s district. Wolfe reportedly did not take Bridenstine’s call, but he was advised to contact the office via email.
“After my visit today with the base commander, I 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,” Bridenstine said in a statement (via @Sqwerin). “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.”
Wolfe later told reporters with The Hill that HHS has given lawmakers tours of their facilities in the past and would do so for Bridenstine:
HHS said it conducts tours as much as possible and has given 55 tours of three facilities so far to elected officials. According to the department, it would continue to schedule tours for “any officials who request them.”
Ft. Sill is one of three facilities established to house an influx of illegal immigrant children flooding the U.S.-Mexico border. Nearly two-thirds of the 52,000 UACs apprehended by authorities this year come from Central American countries.
President Barack Obama has asked Congress for an additional authority and $2 billion to facilitate the screening and deportation process for this inflow of illegal immigrants.