Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Wednesday described a border detention facility where the Trump administration houses children forcibly separated from their parents as “dog cages,” saying the facilities he visited “look like the way you would construct a dog kennel.”
“What you have is cyclone fencing and fence posts that look like cages,” Merkley told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day,” referring to a migrant processing center he visited in Texas.
“These short-term facilities do not employ the use of ‘cages’ to house unaccompanied minors, but portions of the facility makes use of barriers in order to separate minors of different genders and age groups,” the Department of Justice said in a statement firing back at Merkley’s past description of the facilities.
Merkley responded to the DOJ’s statement on CNN, saying the department was not comfortable with the term “dog cages.”
“Well, it’s just a matter of them not being comfortable with that term to describe it. They’re big boxes made out of wire and fence posts. Call them whatever you want,” the senator said.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, who was barred from accessing an immigrant detention center, says the Trump administration is "just determined to sling mud to distract from their (immigration) policy" https://t.co/yKskwu2313 pic.twitter.com/ELRIBpawJo
— New Day (@NewDay) June 6, 2018
Merkley made the remarks just days after he was barred entry to an immigration detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday.
“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.
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
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.
“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.”
A federal judge on Wednesday denied the Trump administration’s request to dismiss a lawsuit over its practice of forcibly separating migrant parents from their children at the border, handing an early victory to civil rights activists who say Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ policy is unconstitutional and cruel.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego denied a motion to dismiss the suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the grounds that separating undocumented families at the border violates their due process rights. The ACLU filed suit in February after a woman seeking asylum from the Democratic Republic of Congo was forcibly separated from her 7-year-old daughter.
The government argues that the practice is necessary to properly prosecute adults who cross into the U.S. illegally.
“At a minimum, the facts alleged are sufficient to show the government conduct at issue shocks the conscience and violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to family integrity,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw wrote on Wednesday.
Read the decision here.
The United Nations human rights office on Tuesday demanded that the Trump administration “immediately halt” its policy of tearing migrant children away from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, declaring that the practice “always constitutes a child rights violation.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who unveiled the administration’s zero-tolerance policy last month, directed border agents to separate children from their parents at the border and prosecute the adults. The administration has framed the new policy as a deterrent to stop migrants from attempting to enter the country.
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that the office is “deeply concerned” by the U.S. government’s decision to separate migrant families, arguing that the policy “amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”
“Children should never be detained for reasons related to their own or their parents’ migration status. Detention is never in the best interests of the child,” Shamdasani declared, noting that the practice seems to have been in effect since October and has been applied “to both asylum-seekers and other migrants in vulnerable situations.”
“The child’s best interest should always come first, including over migration management objectives or other administrative concerns,” she continued, emphasizing that the policy “runs counter to human rights standards and principles.”
“The majority of people arriving at the U.S.’s southern border have fled Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—in many cases either because of rampant insecurity and violence, or because of violations of a range of other rights, such as health, education, and housing,” she noted. “The U.S. should immediately halt this practice of separating families and stop criminalizing what should at most be an administrative offense.”
Shamdasani also pointed out that although “the rights of children are generally held in high regard in the U.S., it is the only country in the world not to have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.” The convention explicitly states that children “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love, and understanding,” and has been active for nearly three decades.