Thousands of illegal immigrant children who have been arrested for crossing the U.S. border are merely pawns "in a political game" by President Barack Obama, Rep. Marsha Blackburn charged to Newsmax on Saturday.
"I find it just horrific that these children would be used for a political point," the Tennessee Republican said after touring a detention center at Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma. "I have a tremendous amount of compassion for these children who are in this situation right by themselves.
"And these are the lucky ones," Blackburn added. "These are the ones that made it. They didn't get killed. They didn't get severely injured. Their stories of hardship are incredible.
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"It just shows you that this is a situation that has gotten away from this administration — and they need to be diligent about securing the border," she said.
Blackburn spent about two hours at the Fort Sill center with Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who appeared on Newsmax TV
on July 3
to tell "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner
how he was denied access when he tried to visit there earlier this month.
Bridenstine said a security guard told him that he would have to arrange a visit through the Department of Health and Human Services.
"My concerns were validated regarding the dangers of the journey to the U.S.," Bridenstine said in a statement after Saturday's visit. "The children are exposed to human trafficking, abuse, and even death.
"Solving this is a matter of national security and national sovereignty," he added. "We must secure the border and dissuade people from making, or sending their children on, this dangerous journey."
Bridenstine said he is sending a letter to HHS officials with questions that he and Blackburn were not able to get answered by detention center personnel.
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Located in Lawton, about 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City, Fort Sill began housing up to 1,200 illegals last month. The move outraged top Sooner State Republicans because the Obama administration had given them less than a week's notice
Other detention centers are at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and at Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California. The temporary housing costs taxpayers $252 per child per day.
More than 52,000 illegal minors have been arrested since October at the South Texas border after crossing the Rio Grande Valley. They come from Mexico and such Central American countries as Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Within 72 hours of their arrests, they are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). They then are detained at shelters until they can be released to family members while awaiting to appear in immigration court.
DHS has sent the illegals to other shelters around the country. Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk said he learned this week that 429 are in centers in the Chicago area.
Kirk asked federal officials to require that the minors undergo criminal background checks amid reports that some illegals have ties to Central American gangs
or are being recruited by groups while in the shelters.
"If any of these individuals has a criminal record in their home country, our government owes it to the American people to facilitate a sharing of records and reassure our nation that these individuals pose no threat," Kirk said in a statement
Residents of other communities continue to oppose relocating illegals there — and Border Patrol agents in Murrieta, Calif., have turned to using Skype to process immigrants in Texas detention centers, Breitbart reports
Protests by angry Murrieta residents this month led border officials to divert three buses of illegals to other centers. Six people were arrested in demonstrations on the Fourth of July.
Obama — though describing the situation as "a humanitarian crisis" — was slammed by Republicans this week for refusing to visit the South Texas border while in the Lone Star State for three Democratic fundraisers.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited a detention center housing 400 immigrants in New Mexico on Friday, warning them that "we will send you back"
if they try to enter the United States illegally.
In her Newsmax interview, Blackburn said that DHS officials told her and Bridenstine that 1,059 illegals were at Fort Sill on Saturday and that as many as 1,700 more had been processed there.
"I saw a lot of Oklahomans working hard trying to make the best of a bad situation," she said. "I saw a lot of children who are absolutely bewildered about the situation they're in."
Bridenstine also praised local residents for their work with the illegal immigrants.
"This is a very difficult situation, and I am impressed with the professionalism and compassion of the people who work at the HHS facility as well as the Lawton-Ft. Sill community," he said in the statement.
Blackburn said they talked with some of the minors through an interpreter — and it was clear that many had been involved in human or drug trafficking by the "coyotes" who smuggle them through Mexico and across the U.S. border, usually for thousands of dollars.
"We know that there's some trafficking going on in this. HHS admits that. Everybody knows that this is taking place.
"It's a horrific situation," she added. "It's one of those things that we need to have the Central American countries work with us on ending. Mexico needs to be working with us on ending that, too."
President Obama asked Congress last week for $3.7 billion to address the border crisis — but Blackburn told Newsmax that she will not support it because the funds will only make matters worse. Bridenstine concurred in his statement. Obama already has the money in the current budget.
"We are not going to incentivize the continued abuse of the southern border," Blackburn said. "We're not going to incentivize the human trafficking, sex trafficking and labor trafficking of these children and young adults."
She said her position was reinforced at Fort Sill.
"You don't want to continue to add to this, to these children who are confused and unaware," Blackburn said. "Nor do you want to incentivize these traffickers.
"There may be a child who is going to someone they don't even know. They have a name. They have a telephone number — and how do you know that they are the parent?
"If someone is in the country illegally, how do you do a verified background check?"
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