A U.S. senator said Monday he had tried to enter a federal facility in Texas where immigrant children are being held, but police were called and he was told to leave.
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley's attempt late Sunday to enter the facility and his request to speak to a manager came amid a national debate over the practice of separating families caught crossing the border illegally.
Merkley was accused of grandstanding by Victoria Palmer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.
The agency is caring for the children being held in a former Walmart with blacked-out windows in Brownsville, a city along the Mexico border.
The Department of Health and Human Services says it operates over 100 shelters in some 17 states, and that children spend an average of 51 days in them.
Merkley, a Democrat, live-streamed on Facebook his attempt to visit the facility, which is operated by a contractor. He said he and the press should be able to see conditions inside because U.S. citizens are financing it.
"Every American citizen has a stake in how these children are being treated and how this policy is being enacted," Merkley said in the video.
A new policy under President Donald Trump is "ripping away" children from immigrant families who have entered the country illegally or are seeking asylum, he said.
At another facility in McAllen, Texas, Merkley saw children in big cages, his spokesman Ray Zaccaro said.
In Brownsville, a supervisor emerged from the building and said he wasn't allowed to make any statement. He gave the senator a phone number of the public affairs office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.
Meanwhile, Brownsville police arrived and asked Merkley for his name and birth date. Merkley provided the information and then tried to explain to the officer why he had come to the facility.
"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," Merkley told the police officer. "And the attorney general's team, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they don't want anyone to know about what's going on behind these doors."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a new "zero-tolerance policy" in which it will press criminal charges against all people crossing the border illegally, even if they have few or no previous offenses. More children are expected to be separated from their parents as a result.
Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said on Twitter that his team was also barred from a migrant facility where families were being separated. He said the federal government's actions were "outrageous" and called for an explanation from Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
It was out of concerns for "the safety, security and dignity of the children" that Merkley was barred from entering the Brownsville facility, Palmer said in an email.
"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," said the statement said.
She said there's a "process" for entering such a facility that he should follow "to make headway on this important issue, rather than just headlines."
By midday Monday, Merkley's video had over 1 million views on Facebook.
This article was written by cool news network.