SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: Yes. And U.S. policy is involved right now with children -- are you familiar with this policy?
POLICE OFFICER: No, negative. Actually, this is not something that we specifically deal with. You know what I'm saying?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: OK.
POLICE OFFICER: But it was just, just so I can ID and advice my sergeant that you're here.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: Yeah. Well, we won't we won't take up their time
POLICE OFFICER: Thank you.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: anymore, but I think it's important for you all to be aware that this has been in the press, all over the country that 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.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Jeff Merkley trying to investigate a facility that's jailed 1,500 children. This is in Brownsville, Texas. It's the local Walmart. Explain why you went there. And what happened, Senator?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: Well, just hours before this, I had gone to a CBP, Customs and Border Protection, processing center. And to my knowledge, I'm the first member of Congress who was in and then witnessed that children were in fact being separated from their parents and put into these big chain-link cages in a warehouse. I was absolutely stunned by the experience. The press had not been in there. It was the consequence of Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump's zero I call it "zero humanity," they call it "zero tolerance" policy. It was a strategy of inflicting pain on children in order to deter immigration.
And I heard from activists that many of these children had been stuffed into this former Walmart up in Brownsville. And I had asked for permission to go and had been turned away in advance. And I thought, "Well, I'll go knock on their door anyway, because if it really has hundreds of children, they have a lot of people working there. Maybe the supervisor will show me around." So, as you witnessed there, I knocked on the door and actually called up the supervisor from outside on my cellphone. And I was told by the assistant that he would come out and talk to me. And he didn't come, and I called back. And, "Oh, yeah, he's coming." He was waiting for the police to arrive.
When I saw the police cars arriving, I thought, "OK, this is going to get interesting. I've never been handcuffed. I've never been slammed to the ground. But it may be about to happen." It didn't. They were actually fairly... the police you saw the police were fairly gracious.
But the point was that the administration did not want anyone, even members of Congress, to see what was going on. They didn't want the press in. Because of that event, the press did get in. And two weeks later, I led a congressional delegation that got in. I had heard there were hundreds of boys, maybe a thousand. It turned out that that was an under-estimation. There were almost 1,500 boys placed into that single building.
AMY GOODMAN: We went, soon after you, to this Southwest Key, to this Walmart, where they had walled off all of the...they papered over the windows, whatever windows there were. And we tried to get in, and they immediately threatened to arrest us if we dared to walk even into the parking lot.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: Yeah, it fortunately, the press got in and was able to describe what was going on. I was struck by they had built 300 bedrooms, little tiny bedrooms. They had proceeded to have 300 boys, just months earlier, and expanded of 1,500, five cots per little bedroom. They didn't they were like, "Oh, well, come see our soccer field." And I'm thinking, "How long does it take 1,500 boys to rotate through a soccer field?"
And I said to the head of the Southwest Key, I said, "You expanded so dramatically. What were you lacking?" He said, "Mental health counselors." I said, "How many are you short?" He said, "Ninety." And I said, "This shows there was no planning, no consideration." These are kids traumatized abroad, traumatized en route, ripped away from their parents, traumatized here in the United States of America. And they hadn't planned to be able to hire any sort of mental health counselors. And so, this just shows the both the incompetence and the callousness of this administration deliberately inflicting harm on children.
If it happened anywhere else, Amy, anywhere else in the world, we would be doing resolutions in Congress. We would be taking it to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. We would be boycotting. We would be saying, "Never, never would this happen in America." It's happening here right now.