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WASHINGTON, D.C. July 15, 2020– Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, a leading advocate for child asylum seekers in the U.S., released the following statement in advance of a July 17 court-ordered deadline for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release children from custody at family internment camps in Texas and Pennsylvania. While the children must be released this Friday, the Trump administration has not yet committed to keeping children together with their families when they are released.

“This will be a humanitarian disaster in the making if the administration does not immediately commit to keeping families together. A federal judge rightly ordered that there is an urgent need for children to be released from these traumatic and dangerous internment camps, due to the severe risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The administration must not use this order as a twisted way to further punish families seeking asylum by re-engaging in family separation.

“These group facilities are, as the Judge pointed out, extremely high risk for spreading coronavirus infections. But most importantly, detaining children is a horrific assault on their wellbeing and, as the Judge ruled, must end. But since the order only affects children, it presents a possibility that the administration will choose to reengage in the cruel practice of child separation. Instead of using this court order as an excuse to engage in more cruelty—and to keep parents in dangerous conditions where they are at high risk of contracting COVID-19—the administration must reinstate the successful Family Case Management Program. This would ensure that families can stay together and stay safe during the pandemic while they await their asylum hearing, with a 99% success rate for having families at their hearings.

“Families belong together. Even in the best of times, children are deeply traumatized by separation. And a global pandemic is far from the best of times. Any move to split these families up will be a lasting moral stain on our nation and another failure to practice basic human decency and safety by this administration.”

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In June 2018, Merkley set off a national firestorm when he went down to the border to expose the administration’s child separation policy and was turned away from a child detention center in Brownsville, TX. Merkley has continued to be a vocal advocate for families and children who are fleeing persecution abroad. In December 2018, Merkley led a congressional delegation to investigate the conditions at Dilley and Karnes, two of the detention centers affected by this week’s order. In his ongoing effort to fight for fair and respectful treatment of human beings at our borders, Merkley has authored the No Internment Camps Act, legislation that would shut down Dilley, Karnes, and other family internment centers in the United States; the Stop Cruelty to Migrant Children Act; and a congressional amicus brief urging the courts to uphold the Flores settlement protecting migrant children’s rights in the face of Trump administration efforts to gut it. He also released Shattered Refuge, a November 2019 report on the Trump administration’s extensive efforts to gut asylum and whistleblowers’ concerns within the asylum system.