OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine says he was denied access to a federal facility at Fort Sill that is housing more than 1,100 mostly teenage immigrant children from Central America.
The first-term Republican from Tulsa said he was visiting the Army post in southwest Oklahoma on Tuesday when he approached a security guard and asked if he could speak with the manager of the facility. The guard called his supervisor, who said no visitors were allowed, Bridenstine said in a news release.
“I asked if they were aware that I am a member of Congress,” Bridenstine said.
The Administration for Children and Families, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is overseeing the children’s care. Bridenstine says he was told to work through that department and that the first chance to visit would be July 21.
“There is no excuse for denying a federal representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held,” Bridenstine said.
Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, said the agency has been arranging tours at temporary shelters in Fort Sill, as well as military bases in San Antonio and Port Hueneme, California, “as frequently as possible” without disrupting its mission.
“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,” Wolfe said in an email to The Associated Press.
Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe toured the facility two weeks ago.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been detained after crossing the Texas-Mexico border since October in what President Barack Obama has called a humanitarian crisis. Many of the migrants are under the impression that they will receive leniency from U.S. authorities.
The influx caused overcrowding at facilities in border communities, prompting the government to ask the military to open temporary shelters in Texas, Oklahoma and California.