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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is fighting for human rights.

According to a press release from Merkley’s office, he investigated one of the immigration detention centers to see how children are being treated once separated from their parents. On Sunday, June 3, he was admitted to a Customs and Border Patrol processing station where families are torn apart, but was denied access to the center where children are being detained.

“Not only was Merkley unable to see anything of the conditions that children were living inside, supervisors at the site refused to answer questions and referred Merkley back to the head office in Washington, D.C.,” the release stated.

Merkley followed up with that office, which is the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and demanded answers.

“It is outrages 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 or deter parents from seeking asylum in the United States,” Merkley wrote in his letter to ORR Director Scott Lloyd, according to the press release.

Merkley continued by saying that under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “zero tolerance” immigration policy, “children must be forcibly separated from their families, falsely labeled ‘unaccompanied alien children,’ and transferred to your agency’s custody.”

He pointed out that other press reports show more than 600 children have already been taken from their families since the policy was initiated at the start of May this year, bringing “the total under your care to a staggering 11,200.”

The UN has also weighed in on this issue and called for the United States to “immediately halt this practice.”

Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani from the UN human rights office told reporters in Geneva that, “The practice of separating families amounts to arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life, and is a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

In Merkley’s letter to Lloyd, a copy of which can be found online, he demanded answers to a list of questions no later than 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,” stated the press release.

According to that release, some of the questions from Merkley included:

-- How many children in the following age groups is the ORR or its contracting agencies currently holding in detention?

-- Newborns to 1 years old?

-- Between the ages of 2 to 4 years old?

-- Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old?

-- Between the ages of 9 and 13 years old?

-- Between the ages of 14 and 18 years old?

-- What is the average and median length of stay for these children? How does this figure compare with 2017 and 2016?

-- How many ORR facilities are currently operational for children and what is the capacity for each of them?

-- How many organizations and companies contract with ORR to house children separated from their parents and unaccompanied minors? What are their names?

-- 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? 

“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 in the press release. “I eagerly anticipate your prompt response to these critical questions.”

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Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.