Editor's Picks News

Merkley talks plastic pollution, immigrant detention


Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley donated a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol for an upcoming local Memorial Day ceremony. Park Ranger Mariah Dawson received the flag in behalf of Nehalem Bay State Park. – Photo By Cody Mann

At the opening of a town hall in Tillamook, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley donated a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol for an upcoming local Memorial Day ceremony.

Park Ranger Mariah Dawson received the flag in behalf of Nehalem Bay State Park. The town hall was held Saturday, May 25, in the Officer’s Mess building at the Port of Tillamook Bay.

Speaking with the Headlight Herald after the town hall, Merkley followed up questions about plastic pollution and federal action. He said there are ongoing discussions in the House and Senate, and that the House of Representative may hold hearings going forward.

Merkley said there is less chance in the Senate of curtailing plastic pollution through policy and legislation due to a Republican majority. Additionally, he said the Environmental Protection Agency has been undermined by the administration of President Donald Trump.

The senator enjoyed a round of applause after a citizen thanked him for his work on the Mexican-American border with immigration policies. He said he’s been pushing for an end to blockading children from crossing at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a practice he said leaves the children stranded in Mexico.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. – Photo By Cody Mann

“I just personally got on the phone while three children were being blockaded two nights ago and stayed on the phone until those children got across,” Merkley said. “CBP says they’re not doing this, but they are.”

He has also been working to close temporary facilities for detaining immigrants, particularly children. Known as The Homestead in Florida and Tornillo in Texas, Merkley called the two large detention centers “massive unlicensed child prisons.”

A Congressional delegation led by the senator at Tornillo in December 2018 protested the operation and called for its closure, which occurred in January. He also called for the release of detained children with immigration sponsors, saying 4,000 children were freed before Christmas. Homestead remains operational.

“They have every incentive to lock kids up and not let them go because they get paid by how many kids they have,” Merkley said. He said the children should be treated with respect and decency as they pursue their asylum claims.

State Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis) attended the town hall among other elected officials. He fielded a question about state-level legislation regarding vaccine mandates. Merkley emphasized the importance at the federal level of working with state and local officials.

“David’s been really a star in terms of showing up for my town halls,” Merkley said. “He’s very easy for citizens to access, and that’s great.”