UPDATE: Despite sharp critcism from the media and members of Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services is still refusing to change the restrictions it has placed for a planned media tour of its Fort Sill facility, where unacommpanied children of undocumented immgrants are being housed. Kenneth Wolfe, Deputy Director of Public Affairs said, “…it has long been HHS’s standard policy to not allow recording devices in… shelters for minors.” He added, “As an alternative, we have released photographs of the shelters which do not include images that could identify the children.” Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has urged the media to boycott the tour under such restrictions.
In light of recent national attention being drawn to the federal government's handling of unaccompanied children of undocumented immigrants, the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services is inviting the media to tour its facility in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to learn firsthand about its operations. However, the proposed tour comes with a long list of conditions, including:
- No recording devices will be allowed
- No questions will be allowed during the tour
- No interacting with staff and children at the shelter
- We ask that your questions be provided via email or phone after the tour to Kenneth Wolfe
- HHS ACF public affairs will provide answers to your follow up questions as quickly as possible
- We will provide photos of the facility after the tour
- There will be no on-site interviews by HHS staff before or after the tour, all inquiries go to Kenneth Wolfe
“RTDNA strongly objects to the HHS restrictions being imposed on the media who choose to participate in this tour,” said Mike Cavender, Executive Director. “Banning recording devices and forbidding questions or interaction with shelter staff show a total unwillingness on the part of the federal government to be transparent on one of the most significant and important stories of our time.“
“What’s worse is to respond only to questions that are emailed or telephoned to HHS after the tour and that the only photo record of the facility will be the one provided by official government photos,” Cavender added. “Once again, the Obama administration is striving to tightly control media access in direct conflict with the President’s promise of creating a government that is the most open in history.”
RTDNA calls on HHS to immediately rescind the restrictions and allow fully independent news coverage of this tour.
Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) expressed a similar position. “The idea of no recording devices, no questions, and no interactions is not acceptable. This violates the 1st Amendment. This is not transparent. HHS is trying to muzzle the media and hide the human tragedy that has resulted directly from the Administration’s failure to enforce the law.” He also points out the tour is scheduled for July 10 when Congress is in session, thus precluding participation by members of Congress. Bridenstine has asked the Department to reschedule the tour for July 12.