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HHS muzzles media on immigrants: No pictures, recordings, questions allowed

HHS muzzles media on tour of immigrant facility.
HHS muzzles media on tour of immigrant facility.
Jay Mallin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's the kind of thing one would expect in North Korea or the former Soviet Union - countries where government "minders" severely curtail what reporters can see or say. But it's happening to journalists right here in America, and it's being done by the U.S. government. On Monday, The Blaze reported that while journalists are being allowed to tour a Ft. Sill, Okla., shelter housing illegal immigrants, they are forbidden from taking pictures, recording video or asking questions of children or staff.

The agency invited select members of the media to tour the facility on Thursday at 2 p.m., and gave them a strict set of rules to follow, The Blaze added. According to Pete Kasperowicz, the invitation said:

“In order to protect the safety and privacy of the children, the following rules for participation will be required:

“- 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.”

Wolfe, Kasperowicz noted, is a public affairs official with HHS’s Administration for Children and Families. According to HHS, the tour is intended to “show members of the press the interior of the shelter and explain the care we provide while these children remain in our custody.”

Translation: You write what we tell you to write and you'll see only what we allow you to see.

Recently, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., was told he could not enter the facility and would have to schedule an appointment sometime after July 21. The Oklahoma Republican told HHS over the weekend he intends to conduct a series of unannounced visits at the Ft. Sill facility and insisted on being allowed to enter at any time with whomever he wishes.

HHS relented, telling Bridenstine he could enter the facility on July 12. But Bridenstine said he would return often, unannounced, and with staff, reporters and even other members of Congress. And, he added, he would speak with whomever he felt would help give an accurate and complete picture of the situation.

“[I]t is unacceptable that any representative of the people be limited to preplanned, showcase visits to a facility so critical to the well-being of children,” he wrote Saturday. “I plan to make multiple visits to the UAC facility at Ft. Sill; the tragedy that is occurring requires unfettered access. I will bring my staff, interpreters, and legal counsel."

“We will speak with HHS staff members, contractor personnel, and persons being detained at the Ft. Sill UAC facility for whatever period is needed to secure an adequate understanding of facility operations and the stories of those being detained. We will bring responsible journalists to appropriately share those stories with the American people," he added.

Bridenstine's full letter can be seen here.

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