On Sunday, a United States senator was denied entry into an immigration facility in Texas where immigrant children are reportedly being housed after having been separated from their parents. Senator Jeff Merkley's video of this immigration detention center rebuffing his in-person request for more information is sparking outrage — and demanding calls for further action. Bustle has reached out to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which runs the facility, for comment on the video, but has not yet received a response.
Merkley tried to gain access to the facility, which is housed in Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday evening. As the senator's Facebook Live video revealed, the facility is housed in a former Walmart store with seemingly blacked-out windows. As the senator noted during his livestream, he was attempting to see firsthand the conditions inside the facility. The impetus behind the senator's visit was the recent Trump administration announcement that undocumented parents and children would be separated when crossing the southern border into the United States. Merkley noted that separated children may be housed at the Brownsville facility.
Merkley was reportedly told by an employee at the facility that he would be able to speak with a supervisor about the conditions at the detention center. When the supervisor came out of the building, Merkley told him, "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."
However, the official then told Merkley that he was not allowed to make a statement. In response, the senator expressed his frustration, saying in the video:
So, we'll just be clear. The conversation that was indicated is going to be very short. That the individual can't make a statement, and so, therefore, I haven't been asked to leave the property, but I'm guessing that's about what's to happen.
Footage from the later part of Merkley's livestream featured the senator answering questions from police officers, who were present on the scene. In the video, the senator asked one of the officers whether he was familiar with the family separation policy. When the officer replied that the issue was not something with which he specifically deals, Merkley emphasized the importance of police knowing about the policy. He also again noted his frustration with his inability to access the facility or speak with its employees. As the senator told the officer:
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. And I really appreciated it when I came and called the number and they said, "Yes, I'm very happy to have a supervisor come out and talk to you." So I'm a little disappointed now that we're not getting that dialogue, but I'll try again in other channels.
The video concluded with Merkley exiting the property after having been asked to leave by the center's supervisor. As Merkley again explained at the end of the video, the center he was seeking to access is run by the nonprofit Southwest Key Program, which as Willamette Week reported, has been contracted by the U.S. government for years to house unaccompanied immigrant minors. However, while acknowledging that he's "sure this nonprofit is dedicated to the well-being of children," the senator requested that the organization push back and question why this new family separation policy is in place.
Merkley's video certainly drew a great deal of attention on social media, with many users thanking him for his efforts to visit the facility and others calling for a further investigation into both the facility and broader family separation practices. Many members of the public will likely be watching very closely to see if there is any follow up information related to Merkley's visit, including if the federal government responds to the senator's request for access.