Several Democratic lawmakers on Sunday paid a "surprise Father's Day visit" to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in New Jersey, capping off a week of heightened tensions surrounding the issue of migrant family separations.
Reps. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesFormer Bad Boy rapper turned politician meets with US lawmakers Watch live: House Democratic leaders hold press conference Congressional staff pay is still too low MORE (N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralFormer Bad Boy rapper turned politician meets with US lawmakers Biden's embrace of Trump-era border policy frustrates Democrats House at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate MORE (N.Y.), Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyOvernight Defense & National Security: US-Australian sub deal causes rift with France Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Oversight Republicans seek testimony from Afghanistan watchdog MORE (N.Y.), Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHouse Democrats ramp up probe of FDA approval of Alzheimer's drug Intercept bureau chief: Democrats dropping support of Medicare for All could threaten bill's momentum House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 MORE (N.J.), Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresCountering China's influence in the Caribbean with a second Caribbean Basin Initiative We can't lose sight of Ortega's abuses in Nicaragua Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs MORE (N.J.) and Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDemocrats brace for toughest stretch yet with Biden agenda LIVE COVERAGE: Tax hikes take center stage in Ways and Means markup Democrats draw red lines in spending fight MORE (N.J.) arrived around 9 a.m. at the Elizabeth, N.J., center, which houses migrants who were separated from their families after illegally crossing the border.
According to Jeffries, the lawmakers were blocked from entering the facility after meeting initial resistance from ICE staff.
Here w/ six other members of Congress including @RepJerryNadler @RepEspaillat at ICE detention facility in Elizabeth, NJ making surprise Father’s Day visit. They are refusing to let us in. We will #Resist #KeepingFamiliesTogether pic.twitter.com/gZ3zzKCDos— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) June 17, 2018
Maloney tweeted that the group was allowed in more than an hour later after "banging on the door" and telling ICE staff and local police that they would not move until they were let in.
"After being made to wait over an hour. After having to deal with local PD. After banging on the door and making it clear that we WILL NOT MOVE until we're allowed in, ICE is finally granting us access to see individuals who have been separated from their families," Maloney tweeted.
After being made to wait over an hour. After having to deal with local PD. After banging on the door and making it clear that we WILL NOT MOVE until we're allowed in, ICE is finally granting us access to see individuals who have been separated from their families. pic.twitter.com/coXJNdxsLP— Carolyn B. Maloney (@RepMaloney) June 17, 2018
“We are now inside speaking with detainees who were separated from their children when they sought asylum in the US from terrible violence and danger at home,” Nadler tweeted.
We are now inside speaking with detainees who were separated from their children when they sought asylum in the US from terrible violence and danger at home. We will be addressing the media outside shortly. #FamilesBelongTogether #EndFamilySeparation https://t.co/CfvQJVxDXG— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) June 17, 2018
"Protests outside the ICE detention center in Elizabeth continue to swell as I and my House colleagues tour the facility. Americans are fed up with the Trump administration's cruelty," Pascrell tweeted.
Protests outside the ICE detention center in Elizabeth continue to swell as I and my House colleagues tour the facility. Americans are fed up with the Trump administration's cruelty. #FathersDay #FamiliesBelongTogther pic.twitter.com/ZeKPm6h44D— Bill Pascrell, Jr. (@BillPascrell) June 17, 2018
ICE said in a statement that media tours of the facilities require advance notice.
“The Congressmen were allowed to visit several detainees. Media tours need an advanced written request to ICE," the agency said.
Sunday's visit in New Jersey comes amid a growing campaign from Democrats and some Republicans to tour detention facilities housing migrant children who have been separated from their family members.
Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats revive filibuster fight over voting rights bill Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise MORE (D-Ore.) is scheduled to lead a group of congressional lawmakers on a tour of a Brownsville, Texas, facility later Sunday.
Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdFirst Democrat jumps into key Texas House race to challenge Gonzales Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel MORE (R-Texas) visited a similar facility in Tornillo, Texas, on Friday night.
The tours come amid congressional pushback against the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy of separating migrant families who cross the border illegally.
Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE announced last month that the Justice Department would enact the policy, which aggressively prosecutes adults attempting to cross the U.S.–Mexico border illegally. At the time, Sessions acknowledged the process could lead to children being separated from their parents upon being apprehended.
Trump administration officials have repeatedly defended the policy, arguing that it acts as a deterrent against illegal immigration.
Democrats and Republicans, however, have spoken out against the practice, calling it cruel, immoral and un-American.
The Trump administration has indicated it will not unilaterally end the practice. Instead, the president and other White House officials have blamed Democrats for refusing to negotiate new immigration laws.
Updated at 12:56 p.m.