He was turned away and later tweeted criticism of the decision.
“I was barred entry. Asked repeatedly to speak to a supervisor – he finally came out and said he can’t tell us anything. Police were called on us,” he wrote. “Children should never be ripped from their families & held in secretive detention centers.”
Merkley said his office had contacted the operators last week and was told it would not be granted access, an answer he called “unacceptable.”
"You’re seeking asylum, and the first thing that happens when you get here is you’re torn away from your parents,” he said in the video. “What kind of impact does that have on these children?"
The facility, housed in a former Walmart building in Brownsville, Texas, is overseen by HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to the senator’s office.
White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Monday that Merkley was “irresponsibly spreading blatant lies” and “smearing hardworking, dedicated law enforcement officials” who deal with migrants at the border.
Gidley argued Monday that the senator’s refusal to back President Donald Trump’s hard-line 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.
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.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in early May that DHS would refer for prosecution all people suspected of crossing the border illegally, a controversial move that will lead to more instances of families being split apart.
Democrats have ripped the new policy as draconian and damaging to young children, while Trump administration officials have sought to blame Democrats for allowing illegal immigration to flourish with lax policies.
Tyler Houlton, a DHS spokesman, said Merkley inquired Friday about access to a facility for unaccompanied minors, but that the request “presented obvious and serious privacy concerns” and could have disrupted operations.
DHS contends that it worked to provide Merkley access to the building, and that the senator’s entourage protested its inability to film children housed there.
“Contrary to any misinformation campaign, the safety of children is paramount for DHS,” Houlton said.