Members of the Oregon congressional delegation today met with immigrant detainees in a federal prison outside Portland, including a father who told them he had been separated from his one-and-a-half-year-old child at the border.
"We heard stories of them fleeing political persecution… religious persecution, and many who were fleeing the impacts of organized crime," said Senator Jeff Merkley speaking at a press conference after the tour. "We heard about bullet wounds and were shown some."
"Tomorrow is Father's Day," Merkley continued, "and we just spoke with fathers who had their children snatched away from them as they were trying to bring their families to safety."
The Trump administration shifted policy at the border last month, criminally prosecuting parents who under previous policies would have been kept with their children as they sought asylum in the U.S. Now those children are being sent to tent camps in Texas, while their parents are being shipped to federal prisons, including in Sheridan, Ore.
Merkley was among the first U.S. politicians to bring attention to this policy change, which the White House describes as a "deterrent" to crossing the border illegally but which has been widely seen as barbaric and cruel.
Merkley was joined in Sheridan today by Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
Crying as he talked about children separations, Blumenauer likened the Trump policy to the decision before World War II to turn away the St. Louis, the ship carried refugees fleeing the Nazis—"a shameful moment in our history," Blumenauer said.
"And I think this is a shameful moment," Blumenauer continued. "It's outrageous. We are criminalizing people who are persecuted….I don't care what you think about immigration. Nobody should treat children [this way]."
Merkley is headed to the border tomorrow to tour the detention center for children that he was turned away from earlier this month.
Wyden said he is staying in Oregon to meet with lawyers who have raised the alarm about the rights of immigrants being violated at the prison.
He says immigrants have been given inadequate access to phone calls and lawyers.
"We saw plenty over the last hour that lawyers for the detainees are going to feel strongly about picking up," he said. "What we heard today is essentially this grotesque Trump policy. America and Oregon are better than this."