Republican Congressman Barred From Entering Detention Camp for Children
Immigrant rights advocates earned a dramatic victory this week when a federal judge ruled the Trump administration cannot indefinitely detain asylum seekers awaiting hearings. Still, more than a week after President Trump signed an executive order halting the practice of family separation, thousands of children remain in camps across the country, with no concrete plan in place to reunite them with their parents.
According to Rep. Jeff Denham of California, at least 25 such boys and girls are being housed at a facility in the San Francisco suburb of Pleasant Hill. On Monday, the California congressman attempted to visit the detention center, which is in a district near the one he represents, only to be refused entry. As the Sacramento Bee reveals, “employees inside had been instructed to not answer the door, not to even speak to him.”
Denham, a Republican up for re-election this November, maintains that he coordinated with Trump administration officials to tour the building, and had been told Friday that he had clearance to enter. He also claims that Southwest Key, the nonprofit running the facility, had requested two weeks’ notice before his visit without offering a reason for the stipulation.
“They knew that we were coming,” Denham told reporters Monday. “We knew cameras most likely wouldn’t be allowed in, but if they wanted to show the conditions, and what a lovely facility they run, then why wouldn’t they want people to come in and report on it?”
Denham is not the first elected official to be denied access to an immigrant detention camp. Last month, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon was barred from entering a facility operated in Brownsville, Texas, by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. At a separate holding center, he described seeing “cages that looked like dog kennels.”
Despite Trump’s executive order, administration officials maintain that his “zero tolerance policy,” which prosecutes migrants for entering the country illegally, remains in effect. A report from NBC News on Tuesday indicates that Border Patrol officials have been instructed to present migrant parents with an ultimatum: Leave the country with your kids or do so without them.
“Similar instructions were given to child welfare workers in U.S. Health and Human Services shelters before Trump ended family separations,” the report reads. “The workers were instructed to reunite parents and children only if the parents agreed to drop their own asylum claims as well as the claim of their child and be deported.”