The Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to allow members of Congress to go on a managed tour of a Texas facility that houses immigrant children, amid congressional criticism that the government is trying to keep members out of these facilities.
But HHS has set several ground rules that members will have to follow if they attend.
The Department of Health and Human Services is starting to allow members of Congress to tour immigrant detention facilities, but under strict rules that don't let them take pictures or talk to the children. Pool/Getty Images
According to an email from HHS to member offices, the rules are designed to "protect the safety and privacy of the children."
"No recording devices will be allowed (We may ask you to leave your cellphone in your vehicle)," the email said.
"No questions will be allowed during the tour, but questions will be addressed right after the tour," it continued. "No interacting with staff and children at the shelter. We will provide photos of the facility after the tour."
HHS emailed members on Wednesday to see if they or their senior staff want to attend the managed tour of the Joint Base San Antonio Lackland temporary shelter, which is housing unaccompanied child immigrants. HHS has set up the tour for the morning of July 8.
HHS said the tour will last 40 minutes, and is designed to show members the inside of the shelter and explain how HHS is caring for immigrant children.
Several members visited the border over the congressional recess this week, in an attempt to learn more about the humanitarian crisis that is the result of more than 52,000 children that have been detained after trying to cross into the United States.
Members of both parties have said the long journey, disease, and incidents of assault are posing serious health risks for the children, and many have tried to get a closer look at the situation.
But on Wednesday, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said he was denied entry to a detention facility in Oklahoma. He said he was told he would have to make an appointment, and that the earliest day he could enter was 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," he said. "Any member of Congress should have the legal authority to visit a federal youth detention facility without waiting three weeks."
The border crisis will likely come to a head in Washington next week, when President Barack Obama is expected to formally ask Congress for $2 billion in order to deal with the situation. That request is likely to prompt Republicans to put forward their own ideas, not only on immigration policy, but on whether and how to pay for the emergency program.
Republicans have argued for weeks now that the biggest contributing factor in the crisis is not poor economic conditions in Central America, but the Obama administration's failure to send the message that amnesty will not be granted to immigrant children.
On Wednesday, a few dozen Republicans sent a letter to Obama saying his deferred action on deportation for younger illegal immigrants is acting like a magnet for more illegal immigrants, and that this policy needs to be terminated.