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Merkley Reveals Homeland Security Head Lied About Family Separation Policy

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley has asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen for perjury after a formerly secret memo revealed she lied to Congress about the Trump administration’s knowledge of a family separation policy.

Last June, Nielsen told Congress there was not a policy for family separation, but a memo released by Merkley’s office reveals that was not true.

The December 2017 memo titled “Policy Options to Respond to Border Surge of Illegal Immigration,” was sent to Merkley’s office by a whistleblower and specifically states that DHS was “considering separating family units.” 

“Under oath, she contended that there was no policy of the United States to separate children from their families — no family separation policy,” Merkley told OPB. “The document that we released yesterday shows very clearly that there was and for a secretary to lie before Congress, it’s important that Congress hold those individuals accountable.”

Merkley has been involved with other high-profile immigration issues. Last summer, most notably, he attempted to visit an Immigration Detention Center in Brownsville, Texas, but was denied entry. He said that his public involvement in immigration may have been why the whistleblower chose to release the memo to his office.

“Immigration policy is important to every state in the union,” Merkley said. “The massive number of children who are being ripped out of their parents’ arms, so I’ve been trying to shine a light on this ever since to say, ‘This is wrong, and this must end.’ And I think it’s because of that that this individual brought the document to my team.”

Merkley also called the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policies “racist,” referring to the president’s comment about wanting immigrants from Norway, but not other parts of the world.

“That is not America. These families are applying for asylum and most of them will be turned down. Most of them will not be able to prove a strong enough case,” Merkley said. “In fact, only about 10 percent are meeting that test, but whether they pass the test or are rejected and sent back where they came from, it is so important that we treat them with dignity in between, not with a deliberate strategy of harm.”

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.