Oregon Delegation Conducts Oversight Tour of Facility Holding Migrant Children

PORTLAND, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, with Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici and Peter DeFazio, on Sunday conducted an oversight tour of Oregon’s only facility contracted by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to hold children who have crossed the border unaccompanied by a parent or guardian.

Last year, ORR denied the Oregon delegation’s request to tour the facility after Merkley set off a national firestorm by exposing the Trump Administration’s child separation policy.

“Today’s visit was an important exercise in congressional oversight, to make sure facilities are operating with appropriate hygiene, health care and education,” Merkley said. “I’m impressed that Morrison’s facilities meet these standards, and are well-staffed with mental health counselors and case workers, and children have appropriate legal representation. The facilities are currently only roughly half full, and we learned there are thousands of vacancies in similar centers across the country. This is all the more reason the child prison in Florida, called Homestead, should be shut down, with children moved to homes and well-staffed centers.”

“I deeply appreciate Morrison’s commitment to the wellbeing and future success of these young people,” Blumenauer said. “But a litany of policy failures have made Morrison’s job more challenging and these people’s lives more traumatic. From proposed cuts to humanitarian aid abroad, to Trump’s hateful rhetoric and inhumane treatment at the southern border—America must do better.”

“As a mother, it’s heartbreaking to visit detained migrant children and teenagers who made the dangerous journey to the United States, many of them without a parent, in search of safety,” Bonamici said. “Congress must be allowed to exercise its oversight role by visiting people—including children—held in federally-funded facilities. Here in Oregon, Morrison Child & Family Services is working diligently to care for the young people in their custody, and to find them safe homes. My visit reinforces my commitment to working for a humane immigration and refugee policy that keeps families together.  And at our Southern border, thousands of children and teenagers were forcibly separated from their parents or family member by the Trump administration. The physical, psychological, and emotional damage from forced separation may last a lifetime. We must immediately improve conditions for migrants, end family separation, and hold the administration accountable for their violations of law and human rights.”

“Yesterday’s visit to Morrison Child and Family Services facilities was a sobering firsthand look at what thousands of unaccompanied minors are facing in the United States today,” DeFazio said. “I commend the Morrison Center for the care they’re providing these children, but remain seriously troubled by accounts of what other minors have gone through at our southern border and detention facilities across the country. It’s imperative that Congress hold this administration accountable and work to raise the level of care and oversight so that every immigrant can receive the best care possible.”

Morrison Child & Family Services has three programs contracted by ORR to hold up to a combined 86 migrant children, ages 13 to 17, who enter the U.S. immigration system as unaccompanied minors—those who crossed the border with no parent or legal guardian. The staff-secure facility holds up to 16 young men who have criminal backgrounds or behavioral issues, and the shelter holds up to 50 girls and boys until they are placed with a sponsor; both facilities are temporary stays for the children. The group home houses up to 20 girls and boys who do not have immediate family connections for sponsorship.

The delegation emphasized the importance of Congressional oversight at facilities that house migrant children, to ensure safety and livability standards are being met. The border spending package that was passed in June includes language that allows members of Congress to tour ORR-contracted facilities with 48 hours’ notice.

Merkley’s Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act would allow members of Congress and their staff, along with credentialed press (without cameras), to visit any facility with 24 hours’ notice, in order to improve public oversight of the conditions in which children are being held. Blumenauer, Bonamici and DeFazio support the House version of the bill.