Senator Jeff Merkley is trying to shut down two high-volume child immigrant detention centers.
Merkley announced Thursday that he’s introducing legislation to the US Senate, aptly titled the “Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act,” that would close the Tornillo Children’s Detention Camp, a tent encampment in the Southwest Texas desert that currently detains about 2,800 immigrant children, as well as a temporary detainment shelter in Florida. Representative Judy Chu, of California, will introduce the same legislation to the House.
I just left the tent city at Tornillo. It is a child prison camp. They refused our request to speak with the children who are held there.
— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) December 15, 2018
Merkley and the coalition of lawmakers that accompanied him reported some gut-wrenching stories on Twitter. Senator Tina Smith said she was told that detainees who repeatedly requested medical care were threatened with deportation.
I’m at America’s southern border, where I'll be seeing firsthand how families and kids are being treated at three detention centers in Texas. pic.twitter.com/mI4RGvdtJb
— Senator Tina Smith (@SenTinaSmith) December 14, 2018
The Democrats will take control of the House in the new year, meaning Chu’s legislation may have a strong chance of passing there. Republicans will still hold a strong majority in the Senate, but Merkley’s bill could force them to vote in favor of detaining immigrant children.
The majority of the children that are currently detained have sponsors in the US who are able to host them if the centers close, according to Merkley's office.
“It was absolutely chilling to see children locked up in a desolate, isolated tent prison in the desert,” Merkley said in a press release. “Children belong in homes, schools, and parks—not behind barbed wire. Our taxpayer dollars are being used to traumatize children by keeping them in a child prison camp instead of in the arms of their families. This is evil. We need to shut down Tornillo and end Trump’s war on children.”