Senator presses for more access to facilities housing migrant children

Senator presses for more access to facilities housing migrant children
© Greg Nash

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump, Biden renew push for Latino support Sunday shows - Trump team defends coronavirus response Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE (D-Ore.) called for greater access to immigration detention facilities on Tuesday, days after he shared a video showing him being barred from entering one in Texas. 

“I’m pondering a couple of things … first of all a bill that would allow members of Congress to enter these detention facilities on short notice," Merkley said in a call with reporters, adding that more access was needed to understand the people being held at the centers. 


“Members of Congress should be able to visit any detention center on short notice," he continued, adding that lawmakers should not have to wait multiple weeks for people at the detention facility to "spruce things up" in preparation for a visit. 

The senator also called for the press to be granted greater access to the facilities in order "to develop a complete picture” of the situation. 

Merkley on Sunday was denied access to a facility in Brownsville, Texas, which he said was housing immigrant children.

"I was barred entry. Asked repeatedly to speak to a supervisor—he finally came out and said he can’t tell us anything. Police were called on us,” Merkley said in a tweet. 

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 (OR-D), 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 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," the spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. 

"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.”

Merkley's visit was aimed at drawing attention to a Trump administration policy which calls for criminal charges against adults attempting to cross the border illegally. Parents attempting to cross the border are separated from their children while the charges are processed under the policy. 

The administration has said the policy will deter illegal border crossings, but Democrats have criticized it, calling it inhumane. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE has blamed Democrats for the policy, saying they have yet to get their act together on immigration.  


Merkley hit back against the president on Tuesday, saying the policy was decided by the executive branch. 

“This is not mandated law this is a decision that has been made after extensive conversations in the administration," Merkley said. 

“It’s completely their decision to adopt this strategy influencing parents by inflicting harm on their children."