This weekend, a Democratic senator from Oregon was denied entry into a detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, which was reportedly housing immigrant children who had been separated from their parents.
Sen. Jeff Merkley shared a video on Facebook chronicling his efforts to enter the facility housed in a former Walmart store with seemingly blacked-out windows.
The senator, who was accompanied by multiple video cameras and the members of American Civil Liberties Union, said he made the trip after his office failed to schedule a visit with the immigration detention center even after repeated efforts.
"I think it's unacceptable that a member of Congress is not being admitted to see what is happening to children whose families are applying for asylum. I decided to come out here, go up to the door and ask to be let in," said Merkley.
In his livestream video, which has been viewed more than 400,000 times, the senator was trying to first-handedly witness the conditions inside the facility.
"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.
The impetus behind the senator’s visit was the recent draconian measure announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which he said families crossing into the U.S. would be prosecuted – even if that meant separating children from their parents.
Although Merkley was initially told by an employee the manager would come and talk to him, the police arrived first.
“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,” said the senator to the supervisor when he finally decided to show up – and that too with cops.
However, the official refused to make any relevant comments.
"We should be told ahead of time if anybody is going to come and visit us," an official with the facility could be heard saying in the video. "Like I said, I'm not going to give a statement right now."
Merkley later took to Twitter to document the entire episode.
I’m at an immigration detention center where children who have been separated from their families are being held. Trying to get inside to get answers. Follow live >>> https://t.co/CXDjYAFIcB#FamiliesBelongTogether#KeepFamiliesTogether— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) June 4, 2018
Merkley’s livestream also featured him answering questions posed by the police officers who, upon the senator’s inquiry, apparently turned out to be unaware of the family separation policy. Their excuse: it’s not their area of specification.
“I think it's important for you all to be aware ... the children who were previously kept with their families, under a new policy just implemented by the attorney general, are being separated from their families and warehoused here. And the attorney general's team and the Office of Refugee Resettlement — they don't want anyone to know what's going on behind these doors,” said the senator who grew increasingly frustrated with the facility’s non-compliance.
The facility in question was managed by nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, a long-time contractor that runs 27 immigrant children's shelters in Texas, Arizona and California, according to its website.
"Americans should be outraged by the fact that our taxpayer dollars are being used to inflict spiteful and traumatizing policies on innocent children," said Merkley in a statement, calling out the non-profit on its work of housing minors who are separated from their parents after crossing the border.
While the senator was sent away in the end, his video drew a great deal of attention as many applauded him for highlighting the Trump administration’s inhumane policy of ripping families apart.
Thank you for your hard work and integrity Senator Merkley...you give us all hope in a dark and confusing time.— cocoberkman (@cocoberkman) June 4, 2018
Thank you for doing what the cowardly, spineless GOP thinks is beneath them. ???— ???#resist??? (@JulzResists) June 4, 2018
And then we have @SenTedCruz / @tedcruz here in Texas more worried if @jimmykimmel will play him in a damn round of BASKETBALL?!??! Get your damn priorities straight Rafael, we don’t need you representing #Texas in the Senate anymore, @BetoORourke will listen to constituents.— Elizabeth (@enelson6) June 4, 2018
Other commentators were horrified by the behavior of officials at the facility, with many getting increasingly worried about what was happening behind closed doors.
Though the Trump administration argued their tyrannical policy would deter border crossings, Democrats have disagreed since the beginning.
Just last week, House Democratic leaders got together and asked the authorities to put an end to the notorious practice, claiming 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.
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