Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday rejected the Obama administration’s attempt to prevent lawmakers from taking pictures and talking to staff and detainees at immigrant detention facilities, and said the government’s arbitrary rules prevent members from serving their constituents.
“I want it fixed, and I want it fixed immediately. Understand?” McCain barked at several senior officials at a Senate hearing Wednesday (McCain’s comments on restrictive visits start at the 5:50 mark in the video below).
“You have over-stepped your responsibilities and your authority, sir,” he said later to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske. “And I want those instructions revoked as far as members of Congress are concerned, and I want it done today. You understand?”
McCain was responding to rules set up by CBP for both members of Congress and press. The rules say no one can take pictures or use recording devices while touring immigrant detainee facilities, and cannot talk to staff.
Kerlikowske told the committee that this policy was put in place to protect the children being detained. “The children have a right to privacy, and that’s why we’re not having their faces shown,” he said.
But McCain rejected these rules at several points during the hearing.
“Are you telling me, when I visit a detention facility, that I can’t bring a cell phone with me? Are you saying that?” he asked. “A United States senator, visiting a facility, these are the instructions that you have signed? Is that what you’re saying?”
When told he can’t take pictures of children, McCain said he might want to take pictures of other things while on tour. Kerlikowske said officials could “certainly make arrangements for you to take a photo, just not of the children.”
But McCain shot back, “That’s not the instructions that you have given, sir,” adding that officials are following CBP’s instructions, and that these instructions don’t mention special arrangements.
McCain made the same point about the ability of members to talk to staff while on tour. Kerlikowske said again that special arrangements can be made, but McCain said again that the rules don’t mention any special arrangements, and thus aren’t being offered.
“I want it fixed, and I want it fixed immediately. Understand?” he said. “The people of Arizona elected me, and I’m not supposed to even carry a cell phone with me?
At the same hearing, officials revealed that there are now more than 57,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the southern U.S. border this year, and that only about 3 percent of children from Central American have been deported so far.