Republicans Blast Government Officials For Blocking Access to Unaccompanied Minor Facility
Republican Senators blasted government officials on Wednesday for obstructing members of Congress from visiting facilities where unaccompanied minors were being held.
During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) blasted Heath and Human Services official Mark Greenberg for denying access to his Oklahoma colleague Rep. Jim Bridenstine from visiting a facility earlier this month.
“I think you made a grievous error in denying Congressman Bridenstine access to the facility,” Coburn said, calling the action “illegal.”
“I think it was illegal to keep a member of Congress from visiting one of these camps, regardless if they come at 3:00 in the morning, they should have access,” he said.
Greenberg asserted that Bridenstine was denied access to the facility because he didn’t schedule a tour, and that they would be happy to make arrangements provided that the proper tour guides were in place.
“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's prepared to be to show,” Coburn replied.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was angered that he was not allowed to bring his cell phone while visiting a facility and wasn’t allowed to visit with staff or children in the facility.
“The children have a the right to privacy and that's why we're not having their faces shown,” explained commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Gil Kerlikowske.
“Are you telling me I can't even speak to staff there?” McCain asked with disbelief, reading the text of the controversial memo in the hearing.
“I view that as a violation of my responsibilities,” McCain said, demanding that Kerlikowske revoke his memo.
“I want it fixed and I want it fixed immediately,” he concluded.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate lamented that the unaccompanied minors who were initially detained by the federal government were clearly suffering before his agency was allowed to help with the border crisis.
“I don't approach this as ‘These are acronyms,’” he said during the hearing.
“We have very, very small children who early in this process were spending far too long in a detention cell, sharing a toilet, and eating food that was microwaved because that's all the agents could provide in the initial push,” he said.
Fugate said that Americans should remember that the children were all “somebody’s child” and should be treated with compassion.
“Until we have enough capacity to ensure that these children are not kept in detention, that there's a bed, medical care, decent food, a shower, clean clothes - we fail these children,” he added.
Fugate defended President Obama’s funding request to properly care for the children, particularly for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“That has been my focus, and that will continue to be the focus until such time as we have stabilized this,” he said.
Fugate’s remarks drew a response from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) who pointed out that it was also important to stop the children from entering the country in the first place.
“We’re a compassionate society. We understand these are children. We want to show true compassion,” he said. “I think the point that a lot of us are making here today is true compassion really would be to prevent this from happening, to actually attack the root cause,” he said.