Federal Officials Again Deny Members of Congress Access to a Detention Facility Holding Immigrant Children in Portland
The federal agency that controls the detention center where immigrant children are being held in Portland again denied requests July 17 from the state's five Democratic congress members to visit the facility.
Staffers for U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer and Kurt Schrader each requested access to the detention facility run by a local nonprofit, Morrison Child & Family Services.
"With each passing day, it becomes clearer and clearer that [U.S. Health and Human Services] is desperately trying to prevent congressional oversight of how these vulnerable children are being treated," the delegation said in a joint statement.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of HHS, rejected the visit, although the lawmakers have said that Morrison staff would welcome the group if given clearance from the federal officials who fund the detention of immigrant kids.
According to the congress members, federal officials have said they will choose days and times for visits to some facilities that house immigrant youth—a strategy the delegation says "makes a mockery of the checks and balances envisioned in our constitution."
Morrison is also funded locally by Multnomah County, which provides more than $823,000 in grants for programs that address addiction treatment and other services for at-risk children.
County Chair Deborah Kafoury has sharply denounced the Trump administration's family separation policy. She even retweeted an anonymous Twitter user who said: "10,000 white people show up at one of those detention camps with crowbars and bolt cutters and cameras and you'll see some more options open up than making these children wait for our election cycles."
But the funds provided to Morrison by the county that Kafoury oversees help keep the nonprofit afloat, and the organization has not given any indication that it will stop housing immigrant children through grants provided by ORR.
Kafoury has defended the funding on the grounds that county money is not used on Morrison's housing of immigrant children.
"I called Morrison CEO Drew Henrie-McWilliams directly to affirm that the county is not contributing in any way to this Trump Administration debacle,'' Kafoury said in a press release last month when the public first learned immigrant children were being held in Portland. "None of the county's contracts fund or touch the Morrison federal programs for immigrant children who are classified as unaccompanied minors."
In a statement this week to WW, Kafoury also points to other county spending. She says the county funneled $100,000 to help provide legal resources for people in immigration proceedings, and recently approved $500,000 in additional funds in the next budget period.
"I believe strongly that at the local level, we have to do the right thing and make sound policy decisions in spite of what is happening at the federal level," she says. "The current administration's anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and actions is reprehensible. This administration has undermined DACA, ramped up ICE activity and separated children from their parents at the border. The threat of deportation can be tremendously destabilizing—for families and for our community—with traumatic, intergenerational impacts."