Merkley, Wyden, Bonamici, Brown Statement on Office of Refugee Resettlement Rejecting Tour Request

PORTLAND, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Gov. Kate Brown, today released the following statement in response to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) refusing to allow the delegation to tour on Thursday evening Morrison Child & Family Services, where ORR placed children who the federal agency had separated from their parents when they crossed the border.

“The Office of Refugee Resettlement turned down our request to meet with the children being held at the facility here in Oregon.

“First, we want to be clear: The Morrison staff have been cooperative and welcoming, both proactively reaching out to us offering to provide a tour and being willing to open their doors on any date. The public should know that the federal agency ORR rejected our request for a visit, not Morrison, and should allow the facility to do its job and take care of the children there.

“ORR refused our request and subsequent appeal based on the argument that we needed to have a Federal Field Specialist (FSS) onsite to answer questions from the delegation and that none was available.

“In a phone call with Assistant Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services Robert Kadlec, Senator Merkley noted that the best individuals to lead a tour were the leaders of the Morrison center, and that we did not need an FSS present. Instead, Senator Merkley proposed a compromise in which Morrison staff would conduct the tour, and the delegation would meet an FSS to ask questions at a later date. Assistant Secretary Kadlec rejected that compromise, even though it was the leaders of Southwest Keys who conducted the delegation tour at the children’s detention center in Texas.

“It is clear that there is no reasonable explanation as to why the tour can’t take place.

“This is a Trump Administration strategy to prevent members of Congress from being able to enter these facilities and check on the condition of the children. We support the administration’s recent efforts at family reunification, but that is not an excuse to refuse to allow Congressional oversight over a facility under contract with the federal government. This is unacceptable.

“That is why Senator Merkley authored, and Senator Wyden is cosponsoring, the Congressional Access to Children’s Detention Facilities Act, which would require the U.S. Homeland Security and the U.S. Health and Human Services to allow members of Congress to tour locations that house immigrant children within 24 hours of making a request.

“In addition to seeking access to the children placed in Morrison, Congresswoman Bonamici led 80 of her colleagues to demand answers from the Trump administration about its plan for reuniting families that were separated at the border.

“The Trump Administration blocking our access is truly unacceptable under our democratic republic, where congressional oversight is an essential check in potential abuse of the president’s executive power, and we will continue to use all of the tools available to us to fight back.”