Senator Jeff Merkley slammed migrant detention centers for children on Sunday, pointing out that many are run by “for-profit” companies and that the U.S. was currently establishing “the largest child prison in American history” to deal with immigrant children.
Merkley, a Democrat who represents Oregon, made the comments during an interview on NBC News Meet the Press, criticizing legislation recently passed by Congress that provided $4.6 billion in additional funding for the Department of Homeland Security to address the growing number of detained migrants and overcrowded facilities.
“It did nothing to change the blockade of children at the border, being left in Mexico. It did nothing to change the for-profit system of Homestead [a detention center in Florida] where 3,200 children capacity — the largest child prison in American history is being established,” the senator said. “And the company’s being paid $750 a day to lock up children, no incentive to get them into homes.”
“This process of the brutalization of refugees, and particularly children, is part of a philosophy of saying, ‘If we treat them like this, we’ll discourage them from coming,” Merkley argued. “There’s just no ethical framework or religious tradition that allows you to mistreat children in this fashion,” the congressman asserted.
At a different point in the interview, Merkley also called out members of the administration of President Donald Trump for dismissing the well-documented poor conditions in migrant detention centers.
“When I hear members of the administration say these reports are unsubstantiated, I’m just like: What world are they living in?” he asked. “From every direction you see that these children are being treated horrifically.”
Migrant detention centers have long drawn controversy, with the ACLU even filing a lawsuit regarding some of the facilities under the administration of former President Barack Obama. However, the detention centers have drawn increasing criticism as conditions appear to have worsened significantly under Trump. Several children have died in the controversial facilities since December and the administration has worked to detain migrants longer than legally allowed. This, coupled with an increasing number of undocumented migrants entering the country, has led to severe overcrowding.
Even the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security released a report corroborating many of the concerns raised by Merkley and other Democratic members of Congress. The report warned that the facilities were a “ticking time bomb.”
Migrants in the detention centers are often not guaranteed access to basic hygiene essentials such as soap, toothbrushes and even showers. They are often forced to wear the same clothes for days or even weeks without laundry services, while sleeping in overcrowded cells on cement floors with thin blankets. According to Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, women in one of the facilities told her that guards instructed them to drink from the toilet because the sink did not work in their cell.
Physician Dolly Lucio Servier, who visited two detention centers for migrant children in Texas, said that they “could be compared to torture facilities,” in an official medical declaration reported by ABC News last month.