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Coburn Blasts HHS For Keeping Bridenstine Out Of Fort Sill Facility

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) during Wednesday's Senate hearing on U.S. border security.

U.S. Sen Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told a senior Obama administration official Wednesday the Department of Health and Human Services should've allowed U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla. 1) access to a facility at Fort Sill housing more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern U.S. border.

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, acting HHS assistant secretary Mark Greenberg said the agency is encouraging members of Congress to tour the centers.

“We absolutely want to ensure that members of Congress are able to visit the facilities,” Greenberg said, but added HHS wants to make sure it’s a scheduled tour.

“I would think you’d want members of Congress to come on an unscheduled basis just as a good check,” Coburn said.

Coburn then said he felt the agency made a “grievous error” by not allowing Bridenstine to inspect the facility.

“First of all, I think it was illegal to keep a member of Congress from visiting one of these camps,” Coburn said. “Regardless if they come at 3 o’clock in the morning, they should have access.”

The Oklahoman’s Chris Casteel recaps more of the testimony:

Greenberg said, “We want to encourage members of Congress to take tours. We are actually very …” “Only at your time convenience,” Coburn said. “I’m saying a random check by a member of Congress is great for this country because they get to see what it is — not what it is prepared to be to show.” “Senator Coburn, I should say we are proud of the facilities,” Greenberg said. “We encourage members of Congress to come and see them. We believe that members of Congress will be pleased by what they see if they come.”

Federal officials plan to allow members of the media to examine the temporary shelter at Fort Sill Thursday. Participants in the tour at the Army post in southwest Oklahoma are heavily restricted and are prohibited from taking pictures, asking questions or interacting with staff or children at the shelter. It is the first time members of the media have been allowed inside the facility at Fort Sill since it began receiving children last month.

Top Obama administration officials also told senators yesterday during yesterday’s hearing they've been struggling to keep up with the surge of immigrants at the nation's southern border. Coburn said he wants to keep the children safe, but he's concerned about the temporary guardians of these unaccompanied minors leading up to deportation hearings.

"If you're not checking the immigration status of those that you place with them, and if in fact they're not here legally the likelihood that they're going to show up before a judge is markedly diminished because it exposes them,” Coburn said.

Other Republicans at the hearing blamed the Obama administration for trying to relax some deportation rules. They said it contributes to the belief in Central America that once they are in the United States, migrant kids will be allowed to stay.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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