TULSA (AP) — An Oklahoma congressman is criticizing a proposed media tour of a facility at Fort Sill where more than a thousand children, mostly teenagers from Central America, are being housed.
Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine called on reporters Monday to reject Thursday’s proposed tour because the invitation says no questions will be allowed and recording devices are prohibited during the 40-minute tour.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in its invitation that in order to “protect the safety and privacy of the children,” no recording devices would be allowed; no questions asked during the tour and there would be no interacting with staff and children at the shelter. Similar rules were in place during recent tours by The Associated Press of holding centers in California, Arizona and Texas.
The invite said answers to follow-up questions from media members would be provided as quickly as possible. The agency also said it would provide photos of the facility after the tour was over.
Bridenstine, a first-term congressman from Tulsa, said in a statement Monday that the stipulations violate the First Amendment. He said in another statement Monday that he planned to tour the site on Saturday, and that he would make “unannounced visits” to the site in the future.
“The idea of no recording devices, no questions, and no interactions is not acceptable,” he said. “This violates the First Amendment. This is not transparent.”
A spokesman for the agency did not immediately address the invite in an email message Monday, only saying that there were 1,117 minors being housed at the facility.
The children are mostly teenagers from Central America who were detained while trying to enter the U.S. illegally. They are among more than 52,000 unaccompanied children who have been detained since October. Similar shelters are operating in Texas and California.
The Defense Department has authorized the facilities to stay open for 120 days as officials try to find the children’s families or place them with a sponsor.