Dem lawmakers make surprise visit to ICE detention center

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 JeffriesPelosi says House will review Senate coronavirus stimulus package Pelosi says House will draft its own coronavirus funding bill Senate closes in on trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus bill MORE (N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralObama presses for social distancing policies to remain in place Self-quarantined New York lawmaker: 'We should be in total lockdown' Activists, analysts demand Congress consider immigrants in coronavirus package MORE (N.Y.), Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyFEMA tells House panel national supply of ventilators running low Stimulus opens new front in Trump's oversight fight Overnight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes MORE (N.Y.), Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills This week: House impeachment inquiry hits crucial stretch MORE (N.J.), Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresLawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela Lawmakers request watchdog probe of Trump admin's ending of temporary protected status House passes resolution disapproving of Russia being included in future G7 summits MORE (N.J.) and Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Hispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins 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.

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According to Jeffries, the lawmakers were blocked from entering the facility after meeting initial resistance from ICE staff.

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.

“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.

"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.

 

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 MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus 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 HurdGarth Brooks accepts Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song Texas kicks off critical battle for House control Gun control group plans to spend million in Texas in 2020 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 SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Guidance on masks is coming The Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention Roy Moore to advise Louisiana pastor arrested for allegedly defying ban on large gatherings 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.