Merkley to Sessions: Come With Me to See Impacts on Children at Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following up on his deep concerns about the Justice Department’s new “zero tolerance” policy that is driving family separation at the border, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley spoke with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions via phone this morning.

In response to Sessions’ statement to Hugh Hewitt that he would be open to visiting the border with Merkley to see firsthand how children are being treated, Merkley invited Sessions to join him on the McAllen/Brownsville border this Sunday. Merkley is leading a congressional delegation to the area on Fathers’ Day to further investigate the family separation crisis. Sessions cited scheduling conflicts and is unable to participate.

Merkley pressed Sessions on reports that officials at legal ports of entry are delaying or denying migrants’ entry in an apparent effort to deter them from applying for asylum in the United States or to force them to enter illegally, allowing their arrest and family separation.  

Merkley also spoke with Sessions about the traumatic impact of family separation on children and urged the Attorney General to consult child development experts about the impact that the department’s policy is having on children. Merkley strongly urged Sessions to consider alternatives like the Family Case Management Program. That program has proven successful in keeping families within the legal immigration system while ensuring families are not separated and traumatized during their wait for an asylum hearing.

Each day, new reports emphasize the human toll of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and family separations. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported on a Honduran asylum seeker who committed suicide after being separated from his son. The New York Times reported recently on the administration’s slow-walking of asylum seekers trying to apply for asylum at legal points of entry, forcing them to wait in the heat for days or even weeks. And yesterday, CNN reported that an infant was snatched out of her mother’s arms while breastfeeding at a detention center in McAllen, Texas. The mother was handcuffed for resisting.

Statement from Senator Jeff Merkley:

“This intentional strategy of inflicting harm on children to deter adults somewhere else in the world from seeking asylum in the U.S. is completely wrong and unacceptable. There is no moral or religious code anywhere in the world that condones hurting children to influence adults. This needs to end.”