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 JeffriesWhy Omar’s views are dangerous The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? Congress hits gas on border deal MORE (N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralHere are the lawmakers who will forfeit their salaries during the shutdown 8-year-old boy dies in CBP custody Hispanic Caucus picks Castro as its next chair MORE (N.Y.), Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyAmazon exec invites Ocasio-Cortez to tour facilities after criticism Dem lawmaker rips opposition to Amazon going into New York: 'Now we're protesting jobs' Democrat vows to move forward with impeachment, dividing his party MORE (N.Y.), Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump bans abortion providers from family planning program | White House doesn't back GOP governor on drug imports | HHS declines to provide witnesses for family separations hearing Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules | Chamber launching ad blitz against Trump drug plan | Google offers help to dispose of opioids Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules after 18,000 lose coverage in Arkansas MORE (N.J.), Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresDemocrats seek to take on Trump at State of the Union Hispanic Dems announce task forces for 116th Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Amazon picks NYC, Northern Virginia for new offices | CNN suing Trump over Acosta press pass | Pelosi machine lobbies for Speakership MORE (N.J.) and Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDems seize on Times bombshell to push allegations of Trump obstruction Cuomo to meet with Trump over SALT deduction cap Dems build case for obtaining Trump's tax returns 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 MerkleyDems face tough vote on Green New Deal GOP Green New Deal stunt is a great deal for Democrats The border deal: What made it in, what got left out 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 HurdDon’t look for House GOP to defy Trump on border wall White House, GOP defend Trump emergency declaration GOP rep: Trump emergency declaration puts US in 'uncharted territory' 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 SessionsTrump says he hasn't spoken to Barr about Mueller report Ex-Trump aide: Can’t imagine Mueller not giving House a ‘roadmap’ to impeachment Rosenstein: My time at DOJ is 'coming to an end' 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.