Lawmaker fuming after HHS immigrant facility denies him entry

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) issued a scathing press release Wednesday after he was denied access to a facility in his state housing more than 1,000 children who crossed the border illegally. 

The freshman congressman asked what the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to hide at the facility in Fort till, Okla. The gates around it are chained, and the facility is covered to obscure outside view, he said. 

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"There is no excuse for denying a Federal Representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held," he said.

The congressman attempted to tour the barracks where the children were after a meeting with the base commander Wednesday, but he was denied. 

"I asked if they were aware that I am a member of Congress," Bridenstine said, recalling the incident.

He was told he would have to make an appointment and the first chance to visit would be July 21. 

“What are they trying to hide?" he asked. "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."

In an email requesting a visit, Bridenstine sent a copy of his press release to HHS Deputy Director of the Office of Public Affairs Ken Wolfe.

Wolfe told The Hill he would issue a response shortly.  

Later in the day, HHS said it conducts tours of its three facilities as much as possible and has given five tours to 55 elected officials so far. According to the department, it would continue to schedule tours for "any officials who request them."

Fort Still was one of three facilities set up last month to house the huge influx of unaccompanied minors crossing over Texas-Mexico border. More than 52,000 children — mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador — have been apprehended this fiscal year. 

The administration has blamed violence in the region and a false misperception being spread in those countries about U.S. immigration policy for the spike. 

The Obama administration has requested expanded authority and resources from Congress to deal with it. That includes nearly $2 billion for the HHS, which is tasked with housing the children. 

The facility in Fort Sill, converted from training barracks, includes beds, showers and office space, according to a Defense Department press release last month that announced the facility would hold the children.  

The children are provided with educational and recreational activities until they can be released to their family, according to the Pentagon.  

There are currently 1,123 children being held at the Fort Still facility, according to HHS. 

—This post has been clarified to reflect that HHS has given five tours to 55 elected officials.