‘Unconscionable’ to put Border Patrol agents in position of separating families, former commissioner says
National outcry over the separation of immigrant families at the U.S. Southern border grows with every new report. Democratic lawmakers have joined protests, and Republicans are increasingly expressing their outrage. On Monday, President Trump again falsely blamed Democrats for his administration's policy. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff for more.
There's been more tough talk from the Trump administration today on separating children and parents who illegally enter the U.S. and possibly some of those seeking asylum.
But the outcry against the policy is growing on both sides of the political aisle.
White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.
President Donald Trump:
The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility. Won't be.
President Trump began the day defiant, pushing back on criticism over his administration's family separation policy. In New Orleans, the secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, also rejected the backlash.
There has been much outcry, consternation and, frankly, misinformation from many in the press, in Congress and advocacy groups over the last few weeks that we at DHS are intentionally doing things that are un-humanitarian, that are cruel, immoral and disgraceful. We are doing none of those things. We are enforcing the laws passed by Congress.
But the outcry grows with every new report. Border Patrol released video shot over the weekend of a facility in McAllen, Texas. It showed people held in fenced cages, and children lying on mats covered in foil blankets.
Outside, Democratic politicians joined with protesters.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.:
What we're doing as a nation is inflicting enormous harm on these kids and on the parents.
This is not the Texas I know. This is not the America that I grew up in.
Federal officials say about 2,000 children were separated in April and May alone. And, increasingly, Republicans are joining in expressing outrage.
In The Washington Post last night, former first lady Laura Bush called the policy cruel and immoral and said, "It breaks my heart." She went on, "These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II."
Current first lady Melania Trump said in a statement that she — quote — "hates to see children separated from their families."
Some congressional Republicans are also objecting, including, on Sunday, Maine Senator Susan Collins.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine:
What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you. That's traumatizing to the children.
Collins, along with fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, wrote to the Trump administration requesting clarification on the asylum process and separations.
And in a lengthy Facebook post, Nebraska's Republican Senator Ben Sasse defended efforts to curtail illegal immigration. But he said of the separations, "This is wrong. Americans do not take children hostage, period."
Today, though, President Trump again falsely blamed Democrats for his administration's policy.
If the Democrats would sit down, instead of obstructing, we could have something done very quickly. Good for the children, good for the country, good for the world. We're stuck with these horrible laws. They're horrible laws. What's happening is so sad, is so sad.
The roots of the current fervor go back to at least March of last year. Then DHS Secretary John Kelly said then family separation might be a way to curtail border crossings.
In order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network, I am considering exactly that. They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.
Yes, we are pursuing a zero tolerance prosecution policy at the border.
Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced zero tolerance, prosecuting anyone illegally crossing the border. As a result, accompanying children are separated from their parents.
In New Orleans today, Secretary Nielsen argued it all stems from a 2015 court settlement.
We cannot detain children with their parents, so we must either release both the parents and the children — this is the historic get out of jail free practice of the previous administration — or the adult and minor will be separated as a result of prosecuting the adult. Those are the only two options.
Opponents insist blaming the policy on Democrats or existing law or the courts is an outright lie.
Today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the separation policy leaves a — quote — "dark stain on our nation."
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Calif.:
This is not an immigration issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It's about the children.
She visited a detention center near the border in California. The debate promises to keep growing, with President Trump set to meet with House Republicans tomorrow, as they grapple over immigration bills.
And Yamiche Alcindor joins me now, along with Lisa Desjardins, who's been covering congressional action on immigration.
Welcome to both of you.
So, Yamiche, what are the politics, what is the political thinking behind the White House policy here?
Well, the policy of separating families is both a political calculation and a cultural calculation.
On the political side, President Trump thinks that this is something that is actually going to play well with Republicans. There are polls that were just released from the Quinnipiac University that said the majority of Republicans, 55 to 35 percent, agree with the policy of separating families.
That same poll found that the majority of Americans, some 66 percent of Americans overall without political affiliations, that they don't back this.
But at the end of the day, this is about President Trump saying, you elected me to take a hard-line stance on immigration policies and that is what I am doing.
CNN found these internal documents, they obtained them, that said that the administration actually made a calculation that said that if they separated families, that this would deter other families from coming to the border.
Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in illegal border crossings, so that has not actually happened.
As you mentioned, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, had that briefing late this afternoon.
So, Lisa, the White House, what the department — the secretary of homeland security was saying today is that this is in Congress' court, Congress should be doing something.
So, tell us, what is the state of play? Two bills now before the House of Representatives.
Well, in one ways, you would think the planets were aligning, because this is immigration week in the House of Representatives.
However, right at this moment, Republicans are trying to figure out what is in their compromise bill. They are tweaking language in the Republican compromise that they say would deal with this issue of family separation.
How they would deal with it is, they would have these families be detained together. However, Judy, that bill right now doesn't look like it's going to pass. That could change.
So the Senate is taking action. We're seeing multiple senators, Ted Cruz just moments ago, unveiling their own stand-alone legislation to deal with this issue. And we're going to be watching over the next couple of days as to what those different issues do.
But at the same time, Judy, we see a difference in that we are seeing some longtime senators today, Republicans, come out with some strong statements about this. Senator Pat Roberts, a statement to the "NewsHour," he said, "While I firmly support enforcing our immigration laws, I am against using parental separation as a deterrent to illegal immigration. My concern is the protection of the children."
That is quite a statement from a very longtime veteran senator.
And, Yamiche, at the White House, they are saying the ball is in Congress' court.
But do they have a plan B? Do they have — are they talking about an any alternative here themselves?
That is the key question.
Secretary Nielsen briefed from the White House today, which is very rare, because she doesn't usually come to the White House briefing. She was questioned about that issue particularly. She showed no signs of backing down.
I actually went and visited the White House today and talked to some White House officials about that. They also say that there are no plans to change this. That is pretty remarkable, because, as Lisa mentioned, there are a number of Republicans, of course, former first lady Barbara — Laura Bush, and all these other people coming out basically saying that they are very bothered by this.
But when you go back to the culture portion of this, President Trump is casting this as saying that this is the future of the America at stake here, that he doesn't want the United States to be a migrant camp. He wants this to be a country where the future is American.
So — and what he ran on was America first. So, in this way, he's basically following the line the administration has had. Secretary — Chief of Staff John Kelly, he once said that a lot of immigrants cannot assimilate well here, that they don't have skills.
So when you look back at kind of the course of this administration, they have been talking about immigrants in a way that some people say is really criminalizing them and really looks at them in a way that does not look at them as Americans or potential Americans.
Lisa, back on Congress, you have been talking to a lot of House members today. The actions on the Republican side, where are you seeing the divisions there?
This goes to another cultural issue, religion in the Republican Party and the Christian right.
There is a real divide. We have seen some Christian leaders come out, Reverend Graham, for example, come out and say they have a real problem with this. But there are also some in the pro-life/anti-abortion community who are having a tough time with what policy they have.
We were the first to get the statement from the Susan B. Anthony List. That's a group that is anti-abortion, very well-known. Let me read you what they decided to come out on this — with today.
"We are dedicated to protecting the first right," they say "the right to life. Therefore, we refrain from public comment on immigration and other topics that impact families."
They are compartmentalizing. They are saying, we are focused on abortion.
But, at the same time, many in their community say this is harming the families that we're trying to protect.
So, just about 20 seconds left, what does it look like Congress is headed towards?
Here is what no one is saying, Judy. There is a real problem down the road, because Republican solution to this in Congress is to detain families together.
Democrats in the Senate will never go for that. They have different bills that would keep families together, but that would allow them to go through the process outside of detention.
And I'm worried for this problem, because I don't see how those two sides come together any time soon.
Conundrum, certainly, at least at this point.
Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.
We will talk to the former head of the Customs and Border Patrol Agency right after the news summary.
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