After Sen. Jeff Merkley, (D-Ore.), tried to gain access to a shelter for unaccompanied minors in Texas, but was “barred entry,” the White House defended the incident on Monday and blamed the senator for not backing the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration agenda.
Sen. Merkley’s office contacted the facility in Brownsville, Texas, which is under the HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to his office, but was told he “would not be granted access,” Politico reported. So Sen. Merkley and his staff showed up at the facility on Sunday after calling the answer “unacceptable.”
“I was barred entry,” he tweeted. “Asked repeatedly to speak to a supervisor – he finally came out and said he can’t tell us anything. Police were called on us. Children should never be ripped from their families & held in secretive detention centers.”
But what Sen. Merkley said he saw in a separate visit to a Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas were children in cages.
“You’re seeking asylum, and the first thing that happens when you get here is you’re torn away from your parents,” Sen. Merkley said in a video he livestreamed on Sunday. “What kind of impact does that have on these children?”
But Hogan Gidley, White House deputy press secretary, shot back at the senator on Monday claiming he was “irresponsibly spreading blatant lies” and “smearing hardworking, dedicated law enforcement officials” who work at the border.
“No one is taking a public safety lecture from Sen. Merkley, whose own policies endanger children, empower human smugglers and drug cartels, and allow violent criminal aliens to flood into American communities,” Gidley wrote in a statement.
The Trump administration’s aggressive immigration agenda became a bit more controversial after Attorney Jeff Sessions announced in May that the Department of Homeland Security would start “prosecution all people suspected of crossing the border illegally,” which would inevitably slip more families up, Politico reported.
In response to Sen. Merkley’s inquiry, Tyler Houlton, a DHS spokesman, said that while they tried to work on the senator’s request to gain access to the Border Patrol Center in McAllen, the protest against the inability to film minors housed at the center “presented obvious and serious privacy concern.”
“Contrary to any misinformation campaign, the safety of children is paramount for DHS,” Houlton said.
Ray Zaccaro, Merkley’s communications director, responded to the White House’s remarks by saying that Merkley and staff “made the trip to the border to highlight the administration’s policy of family separation,” The Washington Post reported.
“As is their custom, the White House is trying to change the subject by smearing Senator Merkley,” Ray Zaccaro said in a statement. “It’s no surprise because there is no defense for their abhorrent policy of snatching children from their parents. [The senator and his staff] saw children in cages yesterday at the DHS processing center. We still have no idea what’s happening in the detention center where reportedly up to a thousand children are being held, since they refused the senator’s request to go inside.”