Merkley Presses Administration on Conditions for Detained Migrant Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today pressed the Trump administration for answers on how children who have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border are being treated while detained.

Last Sunday, Merkley visited the border to investigate the Trump administration’s cruel new child separation policy and to try to see how children in so-called “unaccompanied minors” shelters are being treated. While Merkley was admitted to a Customs and Border Patrol processing station where families are being separated, he was denied entry to a facility where children are being detained. Not only was Merkley unable to see anything of the conditions that children were living in inside, supervisors at the site refused to answer questions and referred Merkley back to the head office in Washington, D.C.

Today, Merkley followed up with that office—the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)—to demand answers on how these children are being treated.

“It is outrageous and cruel to intentionally inflict trauma on vulnerable children, including toddlers and some as young as 12 months, by separating them from their parents or family members and placing them in separate detention facilities in order to influence and deter parents from seeking asylum in the United States,” Merkley wrote in a letter to ORR Director Scott Lloyd.

“Under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ‘zero tolerance’ policy on immigration prosecutions, children must be forcibly separated from their families, falsely labeled ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ and transferred to your agency’s custody,” Merkley continued. “According to press reports, more than 600 children have already been separated from their families since the implementation of this policy at the beginning of May, bringing the total under your care to a staggering 11,200.”

Merkley demanded answers to the following questions no later than next Friday, June 15. He also reiterated his request that he and other members of Congress be able to visit ORR facilities and speak with children and staff.

  1. Since the “zero tolerance” policy officially went into effect on May 7, 2018, how many children have been transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) or its contracting agencies’ custody? How many of these children were separated from their parents and how many entered the United States as unaccompanied minors?
  2. How many children in the following age groups is the ORR or its contracting agencies currently holding in detention?
  3. Newborns to 1 years old?
  4. Between the ages of 2 to 4 years old?
  5. Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old?
  6. Between the ages of 9 and 13 years old?
  7. Between the ages of 14 and 18 years old?
  8. What is the average and median length of stay for these children? How does this figure compare with 2017 and 2016?
  9. How many ORR facilities are currently operational for children and what is the capacity for each of them?
  10. How many organizations and companies contract with ORR to house children separated from their parents and unaccompanied minors? What are their names?
  11. What bathroom facilities and accommodations do these shelters have and are the conditions sanitary? For instance, are there bathrooms, showers, and towels? Are there rooms for the children that have beds with bedding? If so, how many beds per room?
  12. What are ORR’s mandated facility standards for shelter contractors?
  13. What are the required staffing ratios, broken down by age groups?
  14. What categories of staff require credentials to work in these facilities?
  15. Which credential requirements are ORR imposed and which are state required?
  16. How many facilities have state monitors? How often are facilities monitored?
  17. What is the process for providing education and schooling to children? How many days a week is schooling provided and how many hours per day?
  18. Are these children permitted to leave the premise to go outside? Is there recreational time available for physical exercise?
  19. What is the process for providing health care services to children? In order to receive medical care, are health care providers on-site or are ill children transported to hospitals or other health care providers?
  20. What services are provided to children for trauma support and mental health care? Are mental health care professionals providers on site?
  21. Are children informed, in writing or verbally, that any information they provide to medical professionals or facility staff will be added to their immigration record and can be used against them in immigration court?
  22. Please provide a current breakdown by category of children’s approved sponsors.
  23. Category 1 – Parents
  24. Category 2 – Family members
  25. Category 3 – Non-relative
  26. How do detained children communicate with their parents? How often are they allowed to communicate with their parents, through what method, and for what duration?
  27. Are in-person visits between the children and their parents permitted? If so, what are the procedures and policies surrounding visitation and how often do they occur?
  28. Are in-person visits between the children and their lawyers permitted? If so, what are the procedures and policies surrounding visitation and how often do they occur? Under what circumstances, if any, would a lawyer be denied entry to visit with a child?

“It is imperative that children, regardless of their nationality, be treated with a bare minimum standard of fairness and compassion throughout our immigration system,” Merkley wrote. “I eagerly anticipate your prompt response to these critical questions.”

The full text of the letter follows below. A pdf is available here.