Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry

Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry
© Greg Nash

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems protest vote on controversial court pick Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Senate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks MORE (D-Ore.) led a group of Democratic lawmakers to the southern border in Texas on Sunday amid growing backlash against the Trump administration's policy of separating families who have crossed the border illegally. 

Merkley was joined in McAllen, Texas, by Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash Senate adds members to pro-NATO group Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act MORE (D-Md.), as well as Texas Reps. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaProgressives’ wins highlight divide in Democratic Party Live coverage: High drama as hardline immigration bill fails, compromise vote delayed Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry MORE (D), Vicente González (D), and Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeOvernight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases Live coverage: Justice IG testifies before House on report criticizing FBI Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry MORE (D). 

ADVERTISEMENT
Democratic Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineSparks fly at hearing on anti-conservative bias in tech Live coverage: FBI agent defends anti-Trump texts in tense hearing Congress can protect midterm elections with the Disclose Act MORE (R.I.), Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDems struggle with unity amid leadership tensions New Dem star to rattle DC establishment Overnight Defense: Defense spending bill amendments target hot-button issues | Space Force already facing hurdles | Senators voice 'deep' concerns at using military lawyers on immigration cases MORE (Vt.), and Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse GOP reverses, cancels vote on Dem bill to abolish ICE This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Eric Holder: Calls to abolish ICE are 'a gift to Republicans' MORE (Wis.) also traveled to the border on Sunday. 

The group of lawmakers toured the Customs and Border Protection processing centers and looked to find out more information about how the agency processed immigrants illegally entering the U.S., including the Trump administration policy that prosecutes parents crossing the border illegally, thus separating them from their children.

The visit on Sunday was billed by organizers as "#FathersDayofAction." 

 

 

"Here's what's going on. It's a comprehensive strategy of preventing people from seeking asylum. So at the bridges, those who already have documents, passports and so forth are let in while those seeking asylum are kept in the no man's land between Mexico and the United States," Merkley told CNN. 

"And so they're going to cross the border and that's where the administration is saying 'oh, they broke the law crossing the border outside the border checkpoint. Now we'll arrest them and treat them as criminals and take their kids away. I have also heard though, of a number of stories of people who did cross at the official checkpoints who have also been charged with a crime and separated from their children," he continued. 

"This is a deliberate and inhumane policy, and we're here to say to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE, end it and end it today," Van Hollen said in the same interview. 

Merkley made headlines earlier this month when he shared a video of him attempting to enter an immigration detention facility in Texas. He was ultimately turned away by officials. 

The lawmakers' visit on Sunday comes as the administration scrambles to defend the policy in the face of growing backlash. 

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHomeland Security advisory council members resign over family separations: report Once a Trump critic, Ala. rep faces runoff with his support Ryan: 'The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally' MORE invoked the Bible to defend the policy on Thursday, urging law and order at the border, while President Trump blamed Democrats for the policy on Friday. 

"The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda. Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!" the president tweeted.  

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHomeland Security advisory council members resign over family separations: report Republican Uber riders say driver kicked them out with 'Welcome to the resistance' Top Senate Dem: Trump administration's lack of focus on election security an 'embarrassment' MORE issued a series of tweets on Sunday, denying that the administration had a policy of separating families at the border. 

"This misreporting by Members, press & advocacy groups must stop. It is irresponsible and unproductive. As I have said many times before, if you are seeking asylum for your family, there is no reason to break the law and illegally cross between ports of entry," Nielsen said. 

"You are not breaking the law by seeking asylum at a port of entry," she continued. "For those seeking asylum at ports of entry, we have continued the policy from previous Administrations and will only separate if the child is in danger, there is no custodial relationship between 'family' members, or if the adult has broken a law."