McCain Denounces Ban on Photos at Detention Facilities: ‘I Want It Fixed Immediately’

July 9, 2014 - 12:00 PM

detainees

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday blasted Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske during a Senate hearing for instructions he issued that barred people – including members of Congress – from taking cell phone pictures of children or speaking to staff at federal immigration detention facilities.

“I want it fixed, and I want it fixed immediately. Understand? If a member of Congress can’t visit a facility in his own state— the people of Arizona elected me, and I’m not even supposed to carry a cell phone with me?” McCain said at a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing.

“Mister, you have overstepped your responsibilities and your authority, sir, and I want those instructions revoked as far as members of Congress are concerned, and I want it done today.”

As CNSNews.com previously reported, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) was denied access to a federal immigration facility in his home state when he made an unannounced visit there on July 1. Bridenstine expressed outrage that a sitting member of Congress was denied entry to a federal facility in the state he represents.

"Is the policy that members of Congress don't have access to federal facilities? That's the question," Bridenstine told Fox News on July 2. He plans to return to the Ft. Sill facility on July 12 accompanied by other members of Congress and “responsible journalists.”

McCain asked about “interim protocol” for visitation and tours to CBP facilities, signed by Kerlikowske, which instructed banned cell phones photos as well as the “physical or verbal contact with CBP detainees and/or staff.”

“I have been representing the state of Arizona for many years, and I have never seen anything like your instructions to, signed by your name, interim protocol for visitations and tours to CBP detention facilities,” McCain said while at first questioning ICE Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Winkowski.

“Are you telling me when I visit a detention facility that I can’t bring a cell phone with me? Are you saying that? United States senator visiting a facility? These are the instructions that you have signed? Is that what you’re saying?” McCain asked.

Kerlikowske eventually admitted to issuing the instructions. “That would be me. I did issue that memo,” he said.

“Am I allowed to bring a cell phone with me when I go onto a facility in Nogales, Arizona?” McCain asked.

“Not to take photographs, senator,” Kerlikowske said.

“I am not allowed to take photographs? Why not?” McCain asked.

“Not to take photographs inside the facility,” Kerlikowske clarified.

“Why am I not allowed to do that?” McCain asked again.

“The children have a right to privacy, and that’s why we’re not having their faces shown on—” Kerlikowske said, adding that if McCain wanted to take a photo, arrangements would be made as long as the photo does not include the children.

“That’s not the instructions that you have given, sir. ‘Have any physical or verbal contact with detained children unless previously requested and specifically— ‘Oh, have any physical or verbal contact with CBP detainees and/or staff’ Are you telling me that I can’t even speak to the staff there?”

“Senator, I’m not telling you, you couldn’t speak to the staff. We would make arrangements—” Kerlikowske responded.

“Well why did you issue these instructions?” McCain asked.

“We have had requests by hundreds and hundreds—” Kerlikowske said.

“I’m talking about members of Congress, sir, which you said applies to members of Congress. I’m not asking about the hundreds. I’m talking about the responsibilities I have in my own state,” McCain said.

“It does, and we would make special arrangements for special considerations, senator,” Kerlikowske said.

“But that is not to your instructions, and when I was there then, the Border Patrol and the people there said they didn’t want me speaking to any of the staff or children. I view that as violation of my responsibilities,” McCain said.

“I’m not familiar with your specific circumstance—” Kerlikowske said.

“You’re not familiar with—they were carrying out your instructions, sir. I want it fixed, and I want it fixed immediately. Understand?” McCain said. “If a member of Congress can’t visit a facility in his own state—The people of Arizona elected me, and I’m not even supposed to carry a cell phone with me?

“Mister, you have overstepped your responsibilities and your authority, sir, and I want those instructions revoked as far as members of Congress are concerned, and I want it done today. You understand?” McCain added.