WASHINGTON – Sen. Jeff Merkley announced on Friday that an undocumented Guatemalan mother and daughter separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy will be in Congress next week to hear the Republican president deliver his State of the Union address.
“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,” the Oregon Democrat said in a statement.
Launched last year, the zero-tolerance policy mandates criminal prosecution of every adult who enters the country illegally.
While the adult migrants are jailed pending trial, their children are placed in separate detention families.
Nearly 3,000 children were separated from parents under the policy, which, in Merkley’s words, “came from a dark and evil place within the heart of this administration.”
Albertina Contreras and daughter Yakelin Garcia, then 11, were separated at the border in the spring of 2018 and kept apart for nearly two months.
“It was really terrible when they took me away from my mother, because I had no idea that we were going to be separated,” Yakelin said in the statement released by the senator’s office. “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.”
Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress is set for next Tuesday.
In comments Friday to reporters, Trump hinted that he may use the opportunity of the State of the Union to declare a national emergency that would allow him to fund the wall he wants on the US-Mexico border.
“I’m saying, listen closely to the State of the Union. I think you’ll find it very exciting,” the president said during a meeting at the White House.
Pressed for specifics, Trump replied: “I don’t want to say – you’ll hear the State of the Union and then you’ll see what happens right after the State of the Union.”
Trump, who only last Friday agreed to end an impasse over wall money that led to the longest partial government shutdown in US history, insisted that the barrier would be built whether or not the Democrats, now in control of the House of Representatives, provide funding.
“We’re building the wall. It’s going to get built one way or another,” he said.