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Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry

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

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyA proposal to tackle congressional inside trading: Invest in the US Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Lobbying world 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 HollenDemocratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents Lawmakers struggle with Capitol security after latest attack Democrats torn on Biden's bipartisan pledge MORE (D-Md.), as well as Texas Reps. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's next act: Massive infrastructure plan with tax hikes These House lawmakers aren't seeking reelection in 2022 Rep. Filemon Vela to retire from Congress MORE (D), Vicente González (D), and Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeHouse panel approves bill to set up commission on reparations Race debate grips Congress Congressional Black Caucus members post selfie celebrating first WH visit in four years MORE (D). 

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Democratic Reps. David CicillineDavid CicillineHouse committee approves Big Tech antitrust blueprint House lawmakers fired up for hearing with tech CEOs Democratic lawmakers propose B hike for State MORE (R.I.), Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats gear up for major push to lower drug prices Lawmakers debate role of prescription drugs and generics in health care costs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by TikTok - Senate trial will have drama, but no surprise ending MORE (Vt.), and Mark PocanMark William PocanNIH reverses Trump administration's ban on fetal tissue research NIH to make announcement on fetal tissue research policy amid Trump-era restrictions Biden defense budget criticized by Republicans, progressives alike 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 TrumpFreedom Caucus member condemns GOP group pushing 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's new free speech site to ban certain curse words Secret Facebook groups of special operations officers include racist comments, QAnon posts: report 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 SessionsGarland rescinds Trump-era memo curtailing consent decrees Biden picks vocal Trump critics to lead immigration agencies The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings 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 NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing 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."