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How political instability is making U.S. immigration situation worse

WARNING: Video contains graphic footage that may be disturbing to viewers.

The U.S.-Mexico border continues to drive political turmoil. After reports of miserable conditions for detained migrant children, John Sanders, acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, resigned. Meanwhile, Congress is scrambling to reach a border funding deal. Lisa Desjardins talks to reporter Bob Moore of the digital news organization El Paso Matters about the problem's origins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, John Sanders, the administration's top border enforcement official, will leave his post, amid scrutiny over treatment of migrant children.

    As Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports, the news comes as lawmakers are scrambling to reach a deal to fund government border operations.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Today, more turbulence for the men and women who patrol and monitor U.S. borders, as the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection resigned, after roughly two months in the position.

    This as Border Patrol agents remain overwhelmed by a surge in migrants, especially children and families, who are now spending days in Border Patrol processing stations meant to hold them for just hours. And the agency caring for those kids says it will run out of funding for them in just a few days.

    At the Capitol, all of this is sparking a furious fight over an emergency funding bill.

  • Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas:

    There is absolutely no doubt that the numbers of families and children who are arriving at our front door, those numbers have increased.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Democrats, like El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, want basic requirements, like bedding, toothbrushes and translators, to go along with the additional funds.

  • Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas:

    Putting small children and their families and individuals who are at their most vulnerable state in their life as they cross our border, seeking support and solace, are greeted with nothing but misery.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republicans agree on the scale of the problem.

  • Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich.:

    We have the capacity in our processing centers, our CBP processing centers, a capacity of 4,000. We now have 20,000 people in those facilities. This has got to be addressed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But they adamantly oppose efforts to tie new funding to new requirements. They say the real issue is weak U.S. immigration law.

  • Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.:

    Our asylum laws are so broken that they have literally led to hundreds of thousands of people coming across illegally.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House and Senate leaders agree on how much to fund, about $4.5 billion, but the bill from House Democrats would also require new standards in basic health and safety for detainees, and it would block immigration agents from deporting people who want to sponsor a child in their home, but are found to be undocumented themselves.

    In some ways, the two sides are not far apart, but their differences have real-world and philosophical impact. Adding to the complicated dynamics is President Trump, who weighed on conditions at the border.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I am very concerned.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He said he wants humanitarian aid, but indicated he would like a larger deal with Democrats to toughen U.S. asylum laws.

  • President Donald Trump:

    What we would like to do — and I will do it right now officially — is ask the Democrats to give us help on asylum, help on all of the loopholes, the horrible loopholes that got signed in over a period of years, that don't allow us to do what we should be able to do.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Even as Trump lashed out at Democrats, Senate Republicans told "NewsHour" that he has not yet gotten fully on board their border funding bill either.

    And, of course, the impact of any congressional deal would be felt far beyond the Beltway.

    Immigration reporter Bob Moore heads the digital news organization El Paso Matters. He joins us via Skype from there.

    And I must give a warning to our viewers. This discussion includes graphic images that many could find disturbing.

    Bob, I want to first ask you about some of the news we have gotten recently. We reported that CBP, Customs and Border Protection, moved hundreds of kids out of a facility just a few dozen miles from you in Clint because of conditions reported by attorneys, kids urinating on themselves, children who were sick and had to just care for each other.

    Now, today, we're learning that CBP has moved 100 children back into that facility. Can you describe what the conditions are like in that kind of facility or in Clint?

  • Bob Moore:

    I think it's important to understand that these facilities were never set up as detention facilities. They're either Border Patrol stations with small holding cells or space that's been converted.

    So it's not set up to hold adults, let alone children. So, based on the reports that came out last week, the conditions there are very, very rough, that children don't have access to basic sanitary care.

    And while this got a lot of attention, the truth is, this is being replicated all along the border in holding facilities for both adults and children. The conditions are very unsanitary, in some cases very unsafe.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Bob, why is there such a backlog? Are there not new facilities being opened? What's happening here?

  • Bob Moore:

    In part, we're paying for five years of inaction on this issue that we knew was coming with the change in migration from single men to largely families.

    And so we're not set up to hold them. And now you have got this congressional funding that's been sort of put on hold as they try to figure out whether the Democrats can trust the Trump administration and vice versa.

    And so there's a huge investment needed just for basic emergency care to house these people that have been coming across in large numbers. But it's all caught up in politics right now.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Exactly.

    And while we're talking about the turbulence in Washington, can you take us through what the resignation of the acting chief of Border — Customs and Border Protection means out there?

  • Bob Moore:

    I think one of the things we have learned from the last several months, that having a high-ranking position in the Department of Homeland Security is very similar to being a drummer in Spinal Tap. You're not going to have a very long tenure. And your exit is going to be rather spectacular.

    So let's look at what happened today. We have the resignation of the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, who is apparently going to be replaced by the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who, early on in the Trump administration, was fired as chief of the Border Patrol.

    We now have an acting homeland security secretary. We have an acting head of Customs and Border Protection. We have a vacancy in acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We have an acting head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

    So that sort of instability doesn't lead to good policy-making. It's a reflection of the disagreements within the Trump administration on what our immigration and border policy should look like. And one more acting head of an agency within Homeland Security is just going to add further to that uncertainty.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I need to turn to another very serious subject.

    Recently, we have seen many alarming reports of migrant deaths crossing by land and by water. And, notably, these include children. I want to show a very difficult-to-see photo. This is of a father with his toddler whose bodies were found along the Rio Grande this week. They washed ashore.

    Is this something new? Are we seeing an uptick in death and danger to these migrants, or is this just something we're paying more attention to now?

  • Bob Moore:

    I think there's probably more attention being paid to it now.

    The truth is, when you adopt a policy to harden your borders and make it more difficult for people to cross in urban areas, make it more difficult for them to come to ports of entry and seek asylum, that forces them to make under dangerous crossings. And so we're hearing stories of children dying in the desert.

    We're seeing these stories of people drowning in rivers. Here in El Paso, we have begun irrigation season. So rivers and canals that normally don't hold much water are running hot and heavy. That makes it more dangerous for people to cross.

    The summertime is always a time when we see deaths spike. This has been something that's been going on for more than 20 years, and hasn't gotten the attention it needs. And I think the American public needs to understand that, if we decide to make it more difficult to cross the border, if we decide to limit access to the asylum process, this forces migrants into these more dangerous conditions.

    And we can't pretend to be shocked when people start to die, including children.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's obviously a critical story and a test for this nation and our government.

    Thank you for helping shed light on this, Bob Moore with El Paso Matters.

  • Bob Moore:

    Thank you.

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