Dem senator shares video of him being barred entry to immigration detention center

Greg Nash

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Sunday shared a video showing him being barred from entering an immigration detention facility in Texas.

“I’m going to try to enter a facility in Brownsville, TX run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. I am told that this former Walmart may currently be housing hundreds of refugee children who have been separated from their parents,” Merkley said in a Facebook post.

Merkley posted a video of his attempt to enter the facility, where he is seen asking for a tour of the facility that he said his team asked to set up last week. 

A supervisor from the facility, along with police, later came out to speak with Merkley. 


“The reason why I came is this new policy that the attorney general has in place of families that are waiting for the adjudication of their application for asylum in the U.S., and the children are being separated,” Merkley said. 

“We should be told ahead of time if anybody is going to come and visit us,” an official with the facility is heard saying in the video. “Like I said, I’m not going to give a statement right now.”

Merkley told an officer that the person he spoke to on the phone outside of the facility told the officers a supervisor would come and speak to him, but the supervisor said he was not allowed to. 

“So we’ll be clear. The conversation that was indicated is going to be very short. That the individual can’t make a statement, and so, therefore, I haven’t been asked to leave the property, but I’m guessing that’s what is about to happen,” Merkley said. 

“Yeah, sir, I think that’s what they’re going towards,” an officer said before taking down Merkley’s information. 

A spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families told The Hill that Merkley was denied access for safety and security reasons. 

“United States Senator Jeff Merkley, along with five other individuals, attempted to enter an unaccompanied alien children’s (UAC) shelter unannounced and broadcast live via social media last night in Texas. Thankfully for the safety, security and dignity of the children being cared for there, they were denied access,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department of Health and Human Services takes the legal mandate to care for these children seriously. No one who arrives unannounced at one of our shelters demanding access to the children in our care will be permitted, even those claiming to be U.S. Senators. Senator Merkley should respect the UAC program and engage in the appropriate processes, as many of his colleagues have done before him, to visit ORR facilities. We would welcome him to engage in that process so that he may visit the facility to make headway on this important issue, rather than just headlines.”

The policy Merkley was referring to was announced last month by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and called for criminal charges against adults attempting to cross the border illegally. 

Under the policy, parents attempting to cross the border are separated from their children while the charges are processed.

The Trump administration argues that the policy will deter illegal border crossings, but Democrats have criticized it.

House Democratic leaders on Friday demanded an end to the separation of families at the border, saying the policy is “unnecessarily inflicting trauma” on innocent children. 

“This practice is antithetical not only to American values but to basic decency and humanity,” Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as well as Sessions.

Updated Monday at 4:58 p.m.

Tags Jeff Merkley Jeff Sessions Kirstjen Nielsen

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