While U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley was barred from entering a child detention facility in Brownsville, Texas, last weekend, he was able to visit a different facility in McAllen, where recent border crossers are initially processed by the federal government. Merkley and his staff were unable to take photographs of where and how families and children are being held, but his description alone is horrific enough:
The migrant children, he said, undergo their initial screening and sorting in a "dog-kennel style" setting. The senator's team were forced to lock their phones away before entering the facility.
Detainees “had only the clothing they were carrying and foil space blankets,” with “no padding on the floor, and some individuals were seen lying on the ground.” With our tax dollars, by our government. According to The Hill, that same government didn’t take well to Merkley’s description (and there’s no reason to doubt the accuracy of his description, because it’s immigration officials who tend to lie about things like this), with the Department of Justice (DOJ) issuing a response:
“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 said in a statement.
Merkley responded 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,” he said. “They're big boxes made out of wire and fence posts. Call them whatever you want.”
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said his office was also barred from entering a similar facility. “They seize children from their parents and lock them away in facilities that members of Congress and their staffs are denied access to.” Menendez said. According to CBS News, Merkley wants legislation that allows officials like him to visit a facility with 24 hours notice. "This is morally bankrupt and wrong on every level," he said. "You don't hurt children in order to influence policy decision."