Sen. Jeff Merkley: Immigrant Child Detention Center Looked Like "A Dog Kennel"

|

The Department of Justice is denying a claim from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) who says an immigrant detention center he toured in Texas looked "like a dog kennel."

"What you have is cyclone fencing and fence posts that look like cages -- and they do look like cages," he said. "Then it's -- I mean, it's a -- they look like the way you could construct a dog kennel."






Merkley continued: "I'll tell you what really got to me was going into the adjacent warehouse room where they have much larger versions of these fenced and chain-link areas where many -- one of them I was standing next to, it's just filled with young boys. They were lining up for food, starting with the smallest in front."

"And the smallest was just, you know, knee-high," he contnued. "Not knee-high, but maybe belt high. Maybe four or five years old on up through 16 or 17."




"And you see all these children -- you know, some of them may have been unaccompanied minors but many of them were folks who had been just separated probably in the last 24 hours from their parents."

"And you start to think about that," he said. "About the trauma they've gone through abroad, the trauma coming to the U.S."

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR), MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE, APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: No, I wasn't getting in. The supervisor did come out to talk to me but when he came out he said he wasn't able to actually converse about anything that was going on inside the facility. So I neither got in nor did I get any information about the details of what was happening with those children.

CAMEROTA: Do you still think a thousand children are in there without their parents?

MERKLEY: Well, we don't know the number for sure because that's just the -- that's the -- we've heard from others that that's the guess about how many are inside there. It's one of the questions I wanted to ask.

How many children are here, how long have they been there? How many came unaccompanied to the United States? How many were taken away from their parents?

Do you have the medical support? Do you have the psychological support for these children who have experienced trauma?

I couldn't get any -- I didn't get any answers.

CAMEROTA: Well, the White House is very -- seems to be very upset about you trying to expose this story. They put out a statement and I just want to go through it line-by-line because there are so many incendiary claims about you in this statement.

Here we go.

"Senator Merkley is irresponsibly spreading blatant lies about routine immigration enforcement."

Let's stop right there. Is it routine to have hundreds of children?

MERKLEY: No, it's not routine.

They have a -- they have a new policy they've implemented. They started a pilot project last summer -- now they've implemented it completely -- of taking away children from parents when the families are seeking asylum -- even when they present themselves legally at border posts.

[07:35:05] CAMEROTA: But hold on one second, Senator, because I -- because this is a really important point. This also happened under the Obama administration and I believe the Bush administration.

So what is different about what's happening now?

MERKLEY: Well, I think what you're referring to is unaccompanied children under those administrations.

These are children who are accompanied by their parents being taken away from their parents when they're seeking asylum. That is new, that is different. That has not been done before.

CAMEROTA: OK.

Here's the next sentence of their statement from the White House.

"He (you) voted against the closing the catch and release loopholes used by child smugglers."

Did you vote against closing catch and release loopholes of child smugglers?

MERKLEY: No. This is an old claim the administration used when they had the Grassley amendment that had all kinds of unacceptable modifications of immigration policy. And that was basically the president's plan with none of the things that we were fighting for to help the -- help the Dreamers.

So no, it's a -- listen, all of these are about turning the attention somewhere other than their new policy of ripping children away from their parents.

CAMEROTA: They go on to say you and "your reckless open borders policies are responsible for the permanent separation of thousands of American families who have been forced to bury their loved ones."

Do you know what they're talking about why they're blaming you for this -- these deaths?

MERKLEY: This is the open borders argument they use against anybody who criticizes the treatment of children.

Certainly, I have advocated for closed borders from when I first ran for the Senate -- that we need to strengthen our borders. We need to strengthen a system of law. We need to use our visas in an appropriate fashion.

Look, I -- you know, this is an administration that's just determined to sling mud to distract from their policy. And I'm -- of course, I'm encouraging the media, don't let them do it. Go back and talk to them directly about this policy of ripping children away from their families at border points when they're presenting themselves for asylum.

CAMEROTA: And we will do that when we have an opportunity.

Meanwhile, Senator, you had said something on Monday to us on NEW DAY that was really shocking, and you said that in one of the detention facilities that you had been able to get into you saw children in cages, and the White House says that you couldn't possibly have seen that. Sorry, the Department of Justice says you couldn't possibly have seen that.

Let me read their statement.

"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."

Can you tell -- can you describe exactly what you saw?

MERKLEY: You bet, and what I described was that what you have is cyclone fencing and fence posts that look like cages -- and they do look like cages. Then it's -- I mean, it's a -- they look like the way you could construct a dog kennel.

CAMEROTA: And so when the Department of Justice says that they don't use cages --

MERKLEY: It's --

CAMEROTA: -- what are they doing?

MERKLEY: Well, it's just a matter of them not being comfortable with that term to describe it. They are big boxes made out of wire and fence posts. Call them whatever you want.

I mean, that is not the -- that's not really the heart of this. I understand that in a detention center -- it wasn't a detention center -- but in a processing center you're going to separate groups from each other.

But I'll tell you what really got to me was going into the adjacent warehouse room where they have much larger versions of these fenced and chain-link areas where many -- one of them I was standing next to, it's just filled with young boys. They were lining up for food, starting with the smallest in front.

And the smallest was just, you know, knee-high. Not knee-high, but maybe belt high. Maybe four or five years old on up through 16 or 17.

And you see all these children -- you know, some of them may have been unaccompanied minors but many of them were folks who had been just separated probably in the last 24 hours from their parents.

And you start to think about that -- about the trauma they've gone through abroad, the trauma coming to the U.S. Their families are applying for asylum.

And then the only thing they have is the security of their parents. And the medical professionals keep telling us that at that point, tearing them away from their parents is a horrific additional trauma. So that's what bothered me the most.

CAMEROTA: Senator Jeff Merkley, we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention. Obviously, we will stay on this story until we get answers.

MERKLEY: Thank you very much.

Comment
Show comments Hide Comments

Latest Political Videos

Video Archives