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Lawmaker furious after denied entry to immigration facility: What are they trying to hide?

Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., was turned away from the gates of Fort Still, where more than a thousand minors are being detained after crossing the U.S. border illegally.
By Gabrielle Levy   |   July 2, 2014 at 3:03 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- An Oklahoma Republican who tried to visit an immigration detention center in his state Tuesday is furious after he was refused entry.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine sent a scathing letter to the Department of Health and Human Services after he was turned away at the gate of the Fort Still, Okla., facility, where 1,123 children are being detained after crossing the border illegally.

In a press release, Bridenstine said he was told by the HHS official in charge at Fort Still that he could make an appointment for July 21, and that his phone call was refused by HHS Deputy Director of the Office of Public Affairs Ken Wolfe.

"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. "Any member of Congress should have the legal authority to visit a federal youth detention facility without waiting three weeks."

Fort Still is one of three facilities that has been set up to house the thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly in Texas. Approximately two-thirds of the 52,000 children already apprehended this year are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

"After my visit today with the base commander, I approached the barracks where the children are housed," Bridenstine said, recalling his aborted visit to the facility. "A new fence has been erected by HHS, completely surrounding the barracks and covered with material to totally obscure the view. Every gate is chained closed."

"What are they trying to hide? Do they not want the children to speak with members of Congress?" he said. "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."

Under U.S. law, minors apprehended at the border are processed and provided with educational and recreational activities until they can be placed with a member of their family inside the U.S. to await their deportation hearings.

President Obama has asked Congress to provide an additional $2 billion to increase detention capacity for these children and to speed up the screening and repatriation process.

The influx of children at the border has rapidly become a political, as well as humanitarian crisis, with Republicans blaming the administration's deportation policies for encouraging children to seek refuge in the U.S., and Democrats charging Republicans' rhetoric with causing confusion.

Both sides acknowledge that it put an irretrievable wrench in efforts toward a legislative solution for broader immigration issues. And last week, after acknowledging that immigration reform was well and truly dead in Congress, Obama announced he would move forward with executive action by the end of the summer.

Follow @gabbilevy and @UPI on Twitter.
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