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At the heart of the family separation crisis is an immigration system totally overwhelmed

Amid the national storm over his "zero tolerance" immigration and family separation policies, President Trump said on Tuesday that "the only solution to the border crisis" is having the legal authority to detain and deport migrant families as a unit. He also appeared to reject the option of hiring more immigration judges. On the ground in Texas, Amna Nawaz joins Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The storm over separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border rages on tonight. President Trump is insisting that his only choices are separating out the children or releasing whole families without penalty.

    Amna Nawaz is in El Paso, Texas, and begins our coverage.

  • President Donald Trump:

    So, what I'm asking Congress to do is to give us a third option.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In a Washington speech this morning, the president defended his policies and called for Congress to act.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have been requesting since last year the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    His legislative director, Marc Short, weighed in at the White House.

  • Marc Short:

    None of us is pleased with the situation at the border. We have been asking Congress to give us the resources, to give us more judges, so that we can adjudicate these cases faster, and we have asked for a resolution on the floor settlement that would give us the ability to keep children and parents together.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Last night, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz announced emergency legislation to do just that. He proposes keeping families together as their cases proceed and increasing the number of immigration judges from roughly 335 to 750.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas:

    We can together. We ought to all be united and say of course kids should be with their parents. And if we speed up the adjudication, that solves the problem.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, today, the president appeared today to reject the option of hiring more judges.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I don't want judges. I want border security. I don't want to try people. I don't want people coming in. Do you know if a person comes in and puts one foot on our ground, it's essentially, welcome to America, welcome to our country. You never get them out.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Democrats again insisted that the family separations are of the president's making and within his power to stop.

  • Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.:

    Even if you believe people immigration should be halted entirely, we all should be able to agree that, in the United States of America, we will not intentionally separate children from their parents. We will not do that. We are better than that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The pressure also kept building among Republicans, including Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska:

    Short of legislation, I think that, administratively, the secretary, the attorney general, the president, they could move on this tomorrow. There are multiple individuals in the administration that can fix it. And, yes, legislation is one avenue, but it is not the only avenue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Utah Senator Orrin Hatch said he was sending a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking him to halt family separations at the border until Congress does take action.

    Meanwhile, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, condemned family separations, saying, "This is not who we are, and it must stop now."

    Several governors of both parties announced they will no longer send National Guard units to help along the border. All told, Border Patrol officials said today that, since April, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their families, with some held in makeshift tent cities and warehouses.

    In Miami, Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson tried to visit one of the deportation centers, but said he'd been turned away.

  • Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.:

    They are obviously trying to cover up. They don't want us to see it.

  • Protesters:

    Free our children now!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In El Paso, Texas, hundreds of protesters marched in the desert heat.

  • Woman:

    I can't imagine a parent bringing their kid to this country, fleeing from murder, from rape, to come and try to find salvation for their kids. It bothers me, because I love my children, and I would do anything to protect them.

  • Woman:

    The majority of the people that come across this border come because of grave, serious reasons. You don't leave your family, you don't leave your country, your culture, your language, even the work that you did before just because you — just because you feel like taking advantage of somebody else's system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Amid the storm over separations, the president met late today with House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol. The House is set to vote on two immigration bills this week. And Senate Republican leaders said all of their members would now support legislation to keep migrant families together.

    Of course, here in El Paso, on the border, just a couple hundred yards or so from Mexico, this a community that has long been dealing with immigration policy on the front lines of it. But, really, when it comes to the family separation policy, this is also a community that was ground zero.

    This is where the government first test-ran the family separation policy for months before officially rolling it out across the country. And that, Judy, was back in November of 2017.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Amna, if they have been dealing with it there longer, what do they tell you they have learned about it?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, Judy, folks who work on the front lines here basically say they're still learning. It's a complicated process. It is overwhelming for them. And the system, they say, is completely overwhelmed.

    There are not enough legal advocates to make sure that every adult who is being criminally prosecuted has legal representation. There aren't enough beds for the children who are now being separated from their parents and either moving through El Paso to other parts of the country or being housed here.

    And that's why you're seeing reports and hearing about places like Tornillo, which is a temporary tent city that has popped up just about 20 miles east of here. There are already a few hundred minors housed there, and we're told that they could house a few hundred more if necessary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amna, what about people on the ground, people in the community? What are they telling you their reaction to all this is?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you know, Judy, folks here have long been dealing with immigration, and a lot of people here have a very strong opinion on it.

    There aren't any local polls to tell us exactly how everyone feels specifically about family separation. But you saw it. There were a few hundred people that showed up at a protest to march to on the detention center here earlier today. And those people were saying the same things we're hearing across the country, that this is not a representation of who we are as a country.

    I will also tell you the advocates who have been navigating this process for a very long time say that it is more complicated now than ever. Lawyers say, if we, as lawyers, don't know how to navigate the system, how to reunify parents with their children, how are people who don't speak the language, how are children who are left without any information and stuck in the system supposed to navigate it?

    And I'll also tell you, as a journalist, it's incredibly complicated. There is very little transparency. We have all seen the media tours that the government has been allowing people on. They're very restricted. They're very controlled.

    We have requested access to the four detention centers for children in El Paso. We have been told there are no tours scheduled. And so we're waiting to see if the government can provide any more information on those.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It certainly is complicated. Amna Nawaz on the ground for us in El Paso, thank you, Amna.

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