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Merkley, Wyden, Bonamici, Blumenauer Visit ICE Detainees in Oregon Federal Prison

June 18, 2018
Press Release
The 123 detainees from 16 countries are seeking asylum, and say they are sitting in limbo, with no information about hearings, lawyers, or what comes next

SHERIDAN, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley was joined by his Oregon colleagues Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer on Saturday — the day before Father’s Day — to meet with men being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Sheridan, Ore., federal prison under Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy.”


The visit follows a letter to ICE from Oregon’s Democratic Congresspeople demanding that ICE immediately allow those individuals the fundamental right to access legal services.


“The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty reads, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’” Merkley said. “But now, this administration is replacing that message with a new one: If you are persecuted abroad and you wash up on the shores of the United States, we will treat you as a criminal, lock you up, and rip away your children. Tomorrow is Father’s Day, and we just spoke with fathers who had their children snatched away from them as they were trying to bring their families to safety. Lady Liberty’s lamp has been replaced with a pair of handcuffs. This is a stain on our nation, and President Trump and Jeff Sessions need to listen to the outcry from Americans across the country and end this cruel and immoral policy.”


“As the child of parents whose families found refuge in America from the terrors of Nazi Germany, I strongly believe Donald Trump’s cruel and callous treatment of human beings seeking asylum flies in the face of America’s core humanitarian values,” Wyden said. “Trump’s choice of zero tolerance for the refugees we met today and for the others imprisoned around the country this Father’s Day weekend makes zero sense and shows zero understanding of American values. What I saw and heard today highlights the urgency of reversing Trump’s mean, dangerous and damaging actions – returning America to our unique role as a beacon of hope that welcomed our immigrant ancestors and creating the future we want for our children.”


“The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy is cruel and inhumane,” Bonamici said. “Criminalizing victimhood, endangering children, and ripping babies from the arms of their parents in a callous effort to deter further migration is despicable. No biblical rationale can justify these actions. Innocent babies and children are likely to suffer serious trauma, and that’s inexcusable. Also what I saw and heard today is heartbreaking and confirms my serious concerns about the Administration’s policies and the future for immigrant detainees. The U.S. should be allowing people who are seeking asylum and fleeing violence and persecution to present their cases to fair and impartial immigration judges. Instead, President Trump and Jeff Sessions are locking them up and denying them access to legal representation. This is not who we are as a nation and it must end now.”


“This administration’s cruel and inhumane policies shock the conscience,” Blumenauer said. “This is a shameful moment. We are criminalizing people who have been persecuted, and we are enforcing it by yanking children from their families and sending them God knows where. It’s abhorrent. We came to Sheridan to get answers. We leave even more determined to end this evil.”


There are 123 immigrant civil detainees being held at the Sheridan Federal Corrections Institution in Oregon under an inter-agency agreement between ICE and the Bureau of Prisons. The detainees are among the more than 1,600 people that ICE is holding in federal prisons across the United States as it enforces President Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy” on immigration. Under the policy, the Trump Administration is dividing families who arrive together and is tearing children away from their parents, detaining them in separate facilities even if their parents are seeking asylum from violence in their home countries.


At the prison, the Members of Congress spoke with detainees about what brought them to the United States and their experiences once they arrived. The men come from 16 different countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, India, Mauritania, Nepal, Peru, and Russia, as well as Congo and Eritrea — two of the most common countries of origin for asylum-seekers in the United States.


They were told that that detainees are being held inside for upward of 23 hours a day with three men bunked in each cell, because the prison does not have the resources to house ICE detainees alongside pre-trial inmates who are normally held in the facility. The delegation was also told that incompatibility between BOP and ICE telephone systems  is preventing ICE detainees at the BOP facility from accessing legal services.


ICE detainees described stress as they sit in cells day after day without knowing when they’ll get a hearing, or get a lawyer, or what comes next. Particularly striking on the day before Father’s Day: Several men had been separated from their children, and experienced the added stress of not knowing what happened to their families. Under Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy,” the men’s children were taken away at the border — one man said an ICE official told him, “it’s not my choice; the decision came from above” — and the fathers still don’t have any information about their location, condition, or well-being.


Merkley continues his fact-finding efforts on Sunday, when he’ll return to the Texas border with Congressional colleagues to see conditions at a border patrol processing center in McAllen; a border patrol station in McAllen; a port of entry in Hidalgo; and the children’s detention center in Brownsville.