At the State of the Union address, presidents have made it a practice to invite guests to highlight the issues in their speeches or current events.
It's a less common practice for senators to make such pointed invitations.
But U.S. Senator Jeff Merkely (D-Oregon) has invited a mother and daughter who were separated at the U.S. border after fleeing Guatemala and seeking asylum in the United States in May 2018.
Albertina Contreras Teletor and Yakelin Garcia Contreras, who will be 12 on Tuesday, were reunited in July and have been invited to attend the speech, which was delayed till next week by the government shutdown, Merkley announced Friday.
“This child separation policy came from a dark and evil place within the heart of this administration,” said Merkley in a statement. “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.”
Even as the prospects for a Merkley presidential run are dimming, Oregon's junior U.S. senator has continued to spotlight President Donald Trump's child-separation policies.
Merkley first elevated the issue by paying an unannounced visit a Texas shelter for immigrant children last June. After someone summoned police to turn away a sitting U.S. senator, the mild-mannered Merkley became a social media star with 2.2 million people ultimately watching the Facebook live video of his door-knock.
Last month, Merkley released a memo, leaked to him by a whistleblower, that outlined the Trump administration's plans for a policy of separating families, and he called on the FBI to investigate Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for perjury for denying the existence of an official policy to separate parents and children.
CNN reports that along with Merkley's guests, a New Jersey congresswoman invited an undocumented worker from Trump's New Jersey golf club who went public with her story of working for the president's private business and was subsequently fired.