Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) wrote a blistering letter over the weekend saying he plans to conduct a series of unplanned visits to an immigrant detainee facility in Oklahoma, and will insist on being allowed to enter at any time with anyone he wants.
Bridenstine tried last week to enter the detainee facility at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, but was turned back by Department of Health and Human Services officials who said he needed to schedule an appointment. The earliest he could enter, HHS said, was July 21.
Republicans are seeking to inspect detention facilities like this one in Arizona Pool, and are rejecting attempts by the Obama administration to set up "preplanned showcase" visits. Getty Images
Since then, HHS said Bridenstine could visit Ft. Sill on July 12, an invitation the congressman has accepted. But in a Saturday letter to HHS, Bridenstine warned that he would be returning often, unannounced, and with staff, reporters and even other members of Congress.
"[I]t is unacceptable that any representative of the people be limited to preplanned, showcase visits to a facility so critical to the well-being of children," he wrote Saturday of his effort to investigate the surge of unaccompanied alien children.
"I plan to make multiple visits to the UAC facility at Ft. Sill; the tragedy that is occurring requires unfettered access. I will bring my staff, interpreters, and legal counsel.
"We will speak with HHS staff members, contractor personnel, and persons being detained at the Ft. Sill UAC facility for whatever period is needed to secure an adequate understanding of facility operations and the stories of those being detained. We will bring responsible journalists to appropriately share those stories with the American people.
"My visits will be recurring and may include other members of Congress," he added. "On each occasion, I expect to be admitted to the UAC facility without delay and treated professionally and with courtesy. Any federal representative of the people must have unrestricted access to UAC facilities at any time."
President Barack Obama declared in 2013 that, "This is the most transparent administration in history." But many Republicans have disputed that claim, given the fight over IRS emails, efforts to get to the bottom of the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare scandal, and last year's bombshell revelation that the National Security Agency was collecting data on millions of Americans.
He also warned that it makes no sense for HHS to hide the stories of the thousands of children coming across the border, since it creates more incentive for others to try to make it to the United States. More than 52,000 children have come across the border, and thousands more are expected this year.
Bridenstine and other Republicans have said the administration's failure to enforce the border, and its support for a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants, is the cause of the flood.
"Congress, the media, and indeed HHS itself should be shining a bright light on the human tragedy that is continuing to grow day by day and week by week as a consequence of our open border," he wrote.
Read Bridenstine's full letter here: