(CNSNews.com) - A sitting U.S. congressman tried to visit a federal immigration facility in the state he represents to check on the welfare of the children being held there, but he says he was denied entry.
"All we wanted to do was find out who was running the facility. We wanted to talk to them," Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, told Fox News's Greta Van Susteren Wednesday night.
"A lot of these children have been telling stories of rape and abuse. And all I wanted to do was talk to who was in charge of the facility and maybe talk to some of the children to make sure everybody was being taken care of. They said, look, you come back on the 21st of July."
Bridenstine said he made it "extremely clear" that he was a member of Congress. "They still told me if I want to take a tour I can come back on the 21st of July, and I need to talk Health and Human Services. They have an office of legislative liaison. They said I need to talk to them, and I can come back on the 21st of July, but until then there won't be any tours."
The Department of Health and Human Services is running the Oklahoma immigration center, where some of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children are being held after they cross into the United States.
"We drove around the facility," Bridenstine said. "There was a chain-link fence around the facility with some kind of material on the fence so nobody could see out, nobody could see in. It looked like a military barracks with this chain-linked fence that's been obscured all around it.
"We tried to find a gate guard. We couldn't find any access points where there was a gate guard so we could talk to somebody."
Bridenstine says he contacted HHS: "I talked to the deputy communications director for HHS. I actually didn't talk to him, I talked to his assistant, who said, if I would like to talk to him (the deputy), I could send an email. I said, I want to be clear, I'm a member of Congress. I'd like to talk to the gentleman. She put me on hold. She came back later and she said, well, the best way to communicate with him is with email. That's what he'd prefer. I said, OK, well, I'm going to send an email and it's going to be a press release indicating you guys are denying me access to a federal facility in my state. What is it they're trying to hide?
"I'm on the Armed Services Committee. I'm on Subcommittee on Oversight. The reports I'm hearing, that what these children are going through is devastating."
Bridenstine says he has complained to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:
"And I have been told that we are going to start the process of finding out what is the policy. Is the policy that members of Congress don't have access to federal facilities? That's the question. And what is it that they are trying to hide? Why is it that they don't want me talking to these children, some of which have devastating stories?"
The congressman says he used to fly counter-drug missions out of El Salvador as a Navy pilot.
"I've spent a lot of time in El Salvador," Bridenstine said. "The crime there is not worse than it has ever been. Neither is the poverty. What's different is that this president's policies -- he has advertised to the world that if you are a child and you come to the United States of America, you will not be sent home. And that is what's happening here. This is a failed presidential policy. It had nothing to do with Republicans not passing comprehensive immigration reform. This problem exists specifically because of the president's failed policy."