Senate Democrat Jeff Merkley: Situation at Border ‘Approaching a Crisis’

March 11, 2021 Updated: March 11, 2021

Progressive Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) on Thursday acknowledged that the surge in migrant children coming to the U.S.–Mexico border is “approaching a crisis” that could worsen with an ongoing flow of people from South American countries.

When asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota if it is “fair to call what we’re seeing today at the border a crisis,” Merkley blamed the Trump administration’s immigration policies that he said created a back-log of children waiting in Mexico.

Merkley said that the children coming to the border now were the ones “stranded, some for months, some for years, by the Trump administration in Mexico under completely intolerable circumstances.”

“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 continued.

According to multiple reports, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed that the number of migrant children in custody along the southern border is currently more than 3,250—more than triple the number from two weeks ago. Of those children, more than 1,360 have been staying at holding cells longer than the three days allowed by law.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also acknowledged the huge influx of children being detained at the southern border and told a reporter on Thursday that the Biden administration’s “humane” immigration policies may be causing more people to come.

“That some more may have come to our border and there have been, of course, a large flow of children across the border, we recognize that but we made a policy decision because we felt that was the humane approach. But the facts are the vast, vast majority of people who come to our border are turned away and the statistics bear that out,” Psaki said.

While admitting there is an increase in migrants, she did not concede that the situation constitutes a crisis.

Contradicting Merkley’s view of the border, Psaki said, “The border is not open. The vast majority of individuals apprehended or encountered at the border continue to be denied entry and are returned under Title 42, as we’ve already mentioned.”

Title 42 was ordered in place by former President Donald Trump on March 20 last year to prohibit the “entry of certain persons who potentially pose a health risk … because they unlawfully entered the country to bypass health screening measures.”

Another reporter continued to press Psaki about whether the border situation is a “crisis,” to which she responded that it does not matter what you call it.

“These are the policies we’re taking to address what we feel is a vital human challenge at the border. But what our responsibility here to do is to project and convey what policies we’re taking, what the president’s commitment is. That’s exactly what we’re doing and we don’t see the need to put new labels,” Psaki added.

Meanwhile, Republicans are urging the Biden administration to recognize the crisis and act accordingly.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday that there is a huge crisis at the border that will only be getting worse.

“Word is out that the Trump policies are being replaced by the Biden administration’s, that if you get one foot in America, you’re never going to leave and people are coming by the thousands. They’ll be coming by the hundreds of thousands by the summer. It is a humanitarian crisis and it is going to be an economic crisis for our cities along the border, and eventually, it’s going to be a national security crisis,” he said.

Graham said that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS could take advantage of the open border situation.

“This border insecurity is a great way for terrorists to come into our country, just to blend in with this group,” he said.

Merkley said that Graham’s comments were untrue.

“It is the fear-mongering that we saw so often,” he told Camerota.