WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Congress gathers for the State of the Union Address next week, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley will highlight the human suffering caused by President Trump’s child separation policy. Merkley’s guests for the State of the Union will be Albertina Contreras Teletor and Yakelin Garcia Contreras, a mother and daughter who were separated at the southern border in the spring of 2018.
Yakelin, who turns 12 on Tuesday, was separated from her mother for nearly two months before being reunited in July of 2018.
“This child separation policy came from a dark and evil place within the heart of this administration,” said Merkley. “Innocent children suffered because of deeds that were carried out in our names and using our tax dollars as Americans. I’m bringing Albertina and Yakelin as my guests to the State of the Union because we need to bear witness to the suffering that this cruel policy inflicted, and resolve to make sure that nothing like this ever happens in the United States of America again.”
Albertina and Yakelin fled from Guatemala fearing for their lives. When they arrived at the southern border in May 2018, they were told that asylum seekers were being turned away from the official ports of entry, so they crossed a river and surrendered to U.S. Border Patrol agents to ask for safety in the U.S.
“We fled our homes seeking protection from violence and a better life for my daughter,” said Albertina Contreras Telator. “The treatment we were met with was horrifying and lamentable. We know that there are still parents separated from their kids, and we send love and strength to them. No child should be torn away from her mom or dad. We believe in an America that is better than the treatment we received, and we invite all Americans to join us in making that America a reality.”
“It was really terrible when they took me away from my mother, because I had no idea that we were going to be separated,” said Yakelin Garcia Contreras. “She kept telling me to be strong and have faith and that we were going to be together again as they took me away. I tried really hard to do what my mom said and stay strong, but I couldn’t stop crying and crying…. If I could say anything to the President, I would tell him to stop separating kids from their parents because it is just too hard for us kids to lose our parents like that.”
An extended statement from Yakelin is available here.
On June 3, Merkley set off a national firestorm when he went to the border to personally investigate the Administration’s child separation policy and was turned away from a children’s detention center in Brownsville, Texas. Merkley pressured the Trump administration to back down from this cruel policy of separating children from their parents, but the Administration has been determined to keep pursuing policies that inflict trauma on children and families fleeing persecution abroad.
In December, Merkley visited Texas to inspect family internment camps and a children’s tent prison where the Administration had been locking up children seeking asylum. After speaking out against what he saw and introducing legislation to shut down the child tent prison, Tornillo, the contractors running Tornillo announced in late December that they would stop accepting new children. Tornillo was shut down in mid-January, but now the Administration is trying to expand a similar, unregulated child detention center in Florida.
In January, Merkley released a leaked December 2017 memo showing the administration’s planning for a child separation policy. He has since called on the FBI to investigate Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for perjury. Nielsen testified under oath before Congress that the administration never had a child separation policy.