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MCALLEN, RGV – Congressman Vicente Gonzalez says he is “shocked, concerned and confused” that U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley was denied entry into an immigration detention center in Brownsville.

The Democratic senator from Oregon visited the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday. In Brownsville, he sought entry to a former Walmart store that is now run by Health & Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The facility is said to house around a thousand immigrant children. Merkley was denied entry to the building and the police were called. The event was livestreamed on Facebook by Merkley’s staff.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

Merkley also visited the Sacred Heart Respite Center run by RGV Catholic Charities in McAllen and a Border Patrol processing center in McAllen. Inside this facility, Merkley said he saw immigrant children penned in cages.

“I am left shocked, concerned, and confused as to why Senator Jeff Merkley was denied entry into an immigration detention center located in Brownsville, Texas,” Congressman Gonzalez said.

“I stand with Senator Merkley in requesting evidence that immigrant children are being treated in a fair and humane manner once taken into custody by the federal government. What happened over the weekend is unacceptable, and the American people deserve answers from the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS).”

Politico reports White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley as saying Merkley was “irresponsibly spreading blatant lies” and “smearing hardworking, dedicated law enforcement officials” who deal with migrants at the border.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

Gidley argued Monday that the senator’s refusal to back President Donald Trump’s hardline agenda allowed criminals to enter and remain in the United States.

“No one is taking a public safety lecture from Sen. Merkley, whose own policies endanger children, empower human smugglers and drug cartels, and allow violent criminal aliens to flood into American communities,” the spokesman said in a written statement published by Politico.

The newspaper says the White House identified two purported “victims of Sen. Merkley’s reckless open borders policies,” including a 65-year-old Oregon woman who was sexually assaulted and robbed by a Mexican man who had been deported 20 times.

Ray Zaccaro, a Merkley spokesman, said the White House attacked the senator because it couldn’t defend a new prosecution policy adopted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in early May. Sessions said that with immediate effect the Department of Homeland Security would refer for prosecution all people suspected of crossing the border without documentation. This includes Central American families seeking asylum.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, spoke about the new federal policy when visiting the border in Arizona last week.

“It appears our critics want a two-tier legal system. They think illegal aliens should get different, perhaps better treatment than U.S. citizens because they happen to be illegal aliens. No jail if they have a family. No critical consequences if they have children. I am here today to tell you differently. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border we will prosecute you. If you cross the border illegally we will prosecute you. And if you make a false immigration claim we will prosecute you. The lawlessness has to end,” Nielsen told reporters.

Merkley responded:

“This cruel treatment of children and families arriving to the U.S. is completely un-American and unacceptable. Americans should be outraged by the fact that our taxpayer dollars are being used to inflict spiteful and traumatizing policies on innocent children. The Trump administration’s vicious, heartless family separation policy must be stopped. President Trump should end this policy immediately—and any Republican who claims to embrace ‘family values’ must step up to oppose this cruel anti-family agenda.”

Interviewed by Chris Hayes, on MSNBC’s “All In” show, Merkley spoke about his trip to the Valley.

“I was seeking to get into three different places. One was a processing center run by DHS and I was given permission to do that. The second was a respite center run by the Catholic Church and I received permission to do that. This third place is after DHS hands the children over to the Department of Health & Human Services. It is run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. We reached out to that office to get into this facility and they said no,” Merkley told Hayes.

Merkley said from what he understands, there are roughly a thousand children inside the Brownsville facility. He was not impressed by what he saw in the McAllen facility.

“The first room had a series of cages that looked a lot like dog kennels. People that had recently arrived had been put into them. They were very crowded. The individuals have space blankets, no mattresses. They were looking very distressed and upset. A number of women holding children in their arms,” Merkley said.

“Then, adjacent to that is a very, very, large warehouse with larger cages. In those, the children have already been separated away from the parents. There was one cage with young boys who were being lined up for food. They started with the smallest in front. You had a little toddler, he must have been four or five years old, up through youth of 16 and 17.  Some of those may have been unaccompanied. Others, undoubtedly were taken away from their families. Families that are seeking asylum.”

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