Senate Democrat on detained migrant children: 'It's approaching a crisis'

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs Senate Democrats propose penalties for Federal Reserve officials who don't follow ethics code Merkley, Warren and Markey sound alarm over 'dirty' hydrogen provision in climate deal MORE (D-Ore.) on Thursday said the surge in migrant children being held at the U.S.-Mexico border is “approaching a crisis” that could be exacerbated by further waves of families from Latin American countries. 

The remarks came in response to new federal data obtained by The Washington Post Wednesday that found a record number of nearly 3,500 migrant teenagers and children are currently being detained in adult detention centers following a surge in migrants in February. 

When asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota if it is “fair to call what we’re seeing today at the border a crisis,” Merkley argued that while it could get to that point, a large number of the children being detained were “stranded, some for months, some for years, by the Trump administration in Mexico under completely intolerable circumstances.” 

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“Now that the border is not closed, they’re knocking on our door, and you had a set of policies that were determined to treat children very poorly so you didn’t have essentially the systems in place under the Trump administration, and the Biden administration is creating those systems and they’re doing it with a completely different vision,” the senator added. 

After Camerota suggested that the more open border policies being pursued by the Biden administration could be seen as an “invitation” for more migrants to come to the border, Merkley pushed back on the assertion. 

“I wouldn’t call it an invitation because the Biden administration has been saying the message, ‘do not send, do not come north,’ and they’ve been talking to governments throughout the region on their strategies,” the senator added, referring to continued remarks from the White House that now is “not the time” to migrate into the U.S. amid the pandemic. 

Merkley, however, said the Biden administration is committed to ensuring migrant children “spend the minimum amount of time in these Border Patrol stations where the circumstances are totally inappropriate for children.” 

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President Biden throughout his campaign and in his first months in office has committed to shifting away from the more stringent policies put in place by the Trump administration, including the widely condemned zero-tolerance policy of separating families at the border and repeatedly turning back migrants throughout the pandemic without offering the opportunity to claim asylum. 

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China On The Money — Will the billionaire tax survive Joe Manchin? MORE on Tuesday said the Biden administration is looking at new facilities to house unaccompanied children, enabling officials to move thousands of children out of temporary Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities and into housing managed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

Psaki said children moved to HHS housing would have access to education, health care and legal services.

“We don’t want them to be in the CBP facilities,” she said. “We want them to be in shelters as quickly as possible and ultimately in families and homes where their applications can be processed.”