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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 MerkleyDemocrats introduce legislation to strike slavery exception in 13th Amendment Overnight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire Supreme Court declines to hear case challenging unlimited super PAC fundraising 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 HollenOn The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser GOP blocks effort to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry MORE (D-Md.), as well as Texas Reps. Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaDemocrats try to draft Cardenas to run campaign arm after disappointing night Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden builds big lead in battleground Florida MORE (D), Vicente González (D), and Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeePocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death Hillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime MORE (D). 

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Democratic Reps. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Tensions rise with Trump, Barr Maloney to lead Democrats' campaign arm Hillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials 'undermining democracy' MORE (R.I.), Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDemocrats to determine leaders after disappointing election Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Vermont Rep. Peter Welch easily wins primary MORE (Vt.), and Mark PocanMark William PocanBattle for Pentagon post in Biden Cabinet heats up Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats 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 TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts 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 SessionsTime to bring federal employees home for every holiday Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 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 Nielsen'Anonymous' whistleblower Miles Taylor changing locations, employing private security after death threats Biden picks first Latino to lead Homeland Security Judge says acting DHS secretary appointment unlawful, invalidates DACA suspension 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."