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How Trump is cracking down on immigration during the pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, President Trump and his team continue to pursue policies cracking down on immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration said Tuesday it will try to find new ways to end DACA, and recently a legal battle ensued over migrant children in U.S. custody amid COVID-19. Amna Nawaz joins Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump's latest push to implement his immigration agenda.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Throughout the pandemic, the president and his team are continuing to pursue policies cracking down on immigration.

    Today, the administration said that it will try to find ways to wind down and limit a program that protects dreamers from deportation. Dreamers are the immigrants who arrived or remained in the U.S. illegally as children, and haven't lived most of their lives here.

    It is one of several moves of late.

    Our Amna Nawaz has been following all this closely. And she joins me now.

    So, Amna, today, what the administration has done, this is a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, this is something the administration has been trying to end for months. The Supreme Court has turned them down.

    So, help us understand what exactly the administration is trying today.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the move today, Judy, basically further undermines the program.

    It is currently shielding about 700,000 people from deportation. The Trump administration announced today it will no longer accept new applications for that DACA program. It is going to limit renewals for one year, rather than the two-year standard, all of this, it said, while it — quote, unquote — "reviews" the program.

    Now, you mentioned the Supreme Court has said the Trump administration cannot end the DACA program. It's not because they thought the president doesn't have the authority to do it. It's just they didn't agree with the way that they were going about doing it.

    So, that left the door open for the administration to try again. Today's move makes it seem like the president is not done trying. So, Judy, most people I talked to you today said there are sure to be more legal challenges ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, there's another legal fight, as you know, Amna, on another immigration front from this administration.

    This one is roughly — about roughly 100 children who are in immigration detention. A judge has ordered that these children be released. The deadline for that to happen was last night.

    Tell us what the latest is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's right, Judy.

    So, those 100 or so children are held in what's called family residential centers. Those are run by ICE. There's three of them across both Texas and Pennsylvania. They're federal immigration detention.

    And the judge did order those children to be released, because the law says kids shouldn't be in those facilities longer than 20 days. Most of those children have been there much longer.

    But the judge's order did not extend to the parents. And therein lies the problem. So, ICE officials are now presenting parents with a choice. They're saying, sign a consent form, waive your child's rights, and remain together in federal detention, or voluntarily separate. Allow us to take your child, place that child with a family member or a sponsor family or government custody.

    Critics are now calling this family separation 2.0. Now, I did ask ICE for a response to all of this and to that legal deadline from the judge they appear to have missed. And this is what they said.

    "We're unable to comment due to ongoing litigation. However, the most recent decision from that judge paves the way for the parties to continue to dialogue, in anticipation of providing an update to the district court by August 5."

    So, Judy, it looks like they are working with the judge to try to get more time to try to figure out how to handle those kids' cases and not release the families together, which they really don't want to do — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such a concerning report.

    And, Amna, still another concerning report, this one first reported by the Associated Press, has to do with unaccompanied children being kept in hotels along the border. What is — how is — obviously, there was pushback. What's the administration saying now?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Judy, what typically happens when kids come into custody is, they're transferred over to the government agency responsible for the care and custody of migrant children. They have medical and legal and educational resources.

    The report found that ICE was actually keeping custody, with a contractor holding children in hotels and then, within days, deporting them back to their home countries. That was without any evaluation of what they were sending the kids back to. That, of course, is considered on a number of levels.

    I asked ICE for a response to this as well. They said there's pending litigation, so they can't really talk about it.

    But any official I talked to today, including former government officials, said it's concerning when it comes to child welfare interests, for a number of reasons. These ICE contractors are not trained to handle the care and custody of children in the same way the other government agency is — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Amna, when you step back, and you look at all of these moves, what the administration's trying to do, whether they're talking about it or not, what does this all add up to?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, it's all in keeping with the president's ongoing efforts to limit immigration, both illegal and legal.

    I think most people are struck, however, by the fact that children typically — children have typically been the exception, that any child seeking safe haven in the U.S. has been granted that. And that's no longer the case.

    I actually spoke to a former senior ICE official, a man named Andrew Lorenzen-Strait, who left the administration just about a year ago. He called the decision to house kids in hotels without due process abhorrent. He said there are other ways that families in detention can be released together and still comply with the law.

    He said, in his time in the office, they worked to make sure they were enforcing the nation's immigration laws, but maintaining humanitarian standards. And, Judy, he told me this seemingly went out the door with the current administration — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So many important pieces of this story, one of those stories that hasn't gotten a lot of attention because of the pandemic and so much else going on. Really important to be following this.

    Amna, thank you.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thanks, Judy.

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