Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said Democrats always have supported stronger security measures at the southern border and denounced the notion of their desire for open borders, calling it a "myth."
Merkley appeared on "Meet The Press" Sunday to discuss a possible compromise between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration and listed possible changes to the asylum laws, which may bring both sides to the negotiating table.
"Well, let’s get rid of the myth that Democrats are for open borders. We’ve supported border security," Merkley told host Chuck Todd. "That’s a red herring thrown in there."
"But, the change [Republicans] want is to get rid of the Flores settlement agreement that says you can only lock up children for three days and you need to move them into a state-licensed childcare facility or into a home," he continued.
"There is no way, under any set of conditions, that Democrats are going to support the indefinite lockup of children. We know from all the child experts that this does traumatic injury, that that trauma can have lifelong effects. It is a horrific strategy on their part, on the part of the administration, and the answer on that is, absolutely not. Flores, in fact, needs to be applied to the influx facilities like Homestead where it’s not being applied currently. So, we need to expand that application, not eliminate it."
Todd then asked, "What would happen if we could get our cameras in there? I don't mean to be this crass about it, but are pictures what are missing here for action?" Merkley didn't discourage him, saying "an actual camera might make a difference."
Todd also said it felt as if Congress and the White House were at an impasse which won't get resolved easily.
"We’re trapped between a philosophy that says, 'let’s discourage immigration by mistreating refugees,' and an argument that -- 'let’s be a country, as we have often been, that treats migrants and refugees with respect,'" Merkley replied.
"It doesn’t mean that they're able to stay. I mean, it’s very hard to go through the asylum process. Most applicants are turned down. But there’s no reason to mistreat individuals as they’re awaiting an asylum hearing. I don’t know how we can get to that core change unless we have some real leadership from Republicans inside Congress who say enough is enough."
"We cannot, as some Democratic candidates for president now propose, publicly embrace a policy to not deport those who enter or remain in this country illegally unless they commit a crime. This is tantamount to a public declaration (repeated and amplified by smugglers in Central America) that our borders are effectively open to all; this will increase the recent levels of monthly apprehensions at our Southern border — about or more than 100,000 — by multiples," Johnson wrote.
"For the same reason, we cannot formally decriminalize unauthorized entry into this country, though first-time illegal border crossers are in fact rarely prosecuted for that misdemeanor," he continued.
Merkley wrote that prior to the Trump administration, crossing the border illegally was considered a civil offense and should still be treated as such.
"Well, we had, previous to the Trump administration, it was a civil offense... that doesn't mean you get to stay in the United States indefinitely. You still go through an asylum hearing. We maintain the family case management program where 99 to 100 percent of families showed up for their asylum hearings," he claimed.
"They were treated with respect and dignity. And if they established their case, they’re able to stay. If not, they’re deported. But in between, they’re treated as fellow human beings who are fleeing difficult circumstances. And they’re treated with respect and decency."