The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is welcoming members of Congress and their senior staff to tour a temporary shelter being used to house illegal immigrant children — but the invite comes with a list of rules, including a suggestion that members leave their cellphones in their vehicles.
The 40-minute tour will take place Friday at the Ventura County Naval Base in Oxnard, Calif., according to the email invitation, obtained by The Daily Caller.
The tours are meant to give members and staffers an inside look at how temporary facilities are being used to house illegal immigrant children who came to the U.S. without their parents. The minors, who hail mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, are being called “Unaccompanied Children,” or UACs.
Sent to members of Congress and staff by Rose Hacking, of the office of the assistant secretary of legislation at HHS, the invitation comes with the following commands:
No recording devices will be allowed (We may ask you to leave your cellphone in our vehicle)
No questions will be allowed during the tour, but questions will be addressed later
No interacting with staff and children at the shelter
We will provide photos of the facility after the tour
During the tour, “the tour guide will detail what goes on from room to room and the services youth are provided on a daily basis,” the email invitation reads.
But one congressional staffer invited to tour the facility called the planned tours “a dog and pony show.”
“Don’t talk to anyone, don’t record anything you might happen to see, but come visit us and we’ll give you a sanitized story with only the photos and accounts we want you to have,” said the staffer, who requested anonymity.
“This isn’t some totalitarian closed society trying this tactic, this is our own government. They clearly wouldn’t be offering up this kind of dog and pony show if they weren’t hiding a very ugly truth somewhere.”
The UACs are part of an unprecedented surge of young immigrants that has overwhelmed immigration agencies at the southern Texas border.
Because of overcrowding, after being processed at the Texas border, the UACs are being transported to other facilities, such as the one at Naval Base Ventura County. FEMA is coordinating the large scale effort, with HHS handling housing and care for the UACs through the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Friday’s tour will be the only one offered at the naval base, reads the email invite.
Numerous questions about arrangements at the facilities have been raised.
Some wonder how long the facilities will be used to house the UACs. So far, the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security have not put a timeline on it. Others have worried that the children themselves may be in danger of falling into the hands of traffickers and criminals. And still others worry about the quality of the conditions at the temporary facilities.
The Naval Base Ventura County currently has capacity for 230 UACs. Current occupation is at 91, leaving 139 open beds. But HHS has plans to increase the overall capacity to 575, according to a document obtained Wednesday by TheDC. (RELATED: Leaked Docs: Here’s What DHS Is Doing With All Those Illegal Immigrant Children)
Two other military installations are being used to house UACs. Fort Sill Army base in Lawton, Oklahoma will house 600. Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio is already near its capacity of 1,200.
Another 94 non-military shelter grantees are being used to house 6,218 UACs, according to the HHS document. Housing at a government building in Baltimore, Maryland is also planned.
How the Obama administration plans to deal with the influx of UACs remains to be seen. The number apprehended so far this year is up 92 percent compared to last year, with between 200 and 250 UACs being apprehended each day since June 1.
Rather than being turned away at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. immigration policy requires UACs to be placed in temporary shelters. From there, federal agencies begin deportation proceedings while looking for relatives or sponsors to house them.
The administration has not been clear on how many of the UACs end up being returned to their home countries and how many end up staying in the U.S.
HHS’s Hacking did not immediately respond to TheDC’s request for comment.