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Father Fighting for Custody of Kids Overseas; Firsthand Account of Philippine Suffering; Clinton: Obama Should Honor Insurance Commitment; Interview with Sen. Dick Durbin

Aired November 12, 2013 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: For a parent, knowing where your children are but then not being able to get to them is excruciating. And it is a reality for one father whose children were taken to Argentina more than three years ago even though he was granted the legal custody of those girls. Now he's locked in a legal battle.

And he sat down exclusively with Ana Cabrera to tell his story.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Dennis Burns, the faces of his daughters bring him both joy and heart break.

DENNIS BURNS, FIGHTING INTERNATIONAL CUSTODY BATTLE: This is Sophia's first trip to Ocean Beach ever.

CABRERA: He spent the last three years missing out on the everyday activities that most parents take for grants. Three years of no Christmases or special occasions.

BURNS: Yea. There's times when I want to think about them, but it hurts too much to think about them. And there's things that I need to do to survive in this -- this marathon of a situation that I'm in.

CABRERA: Burns was once happily married to the girl's mother who is originally from Argentina. But after five years, the relationship soured. They went through a contentious divorce and a custody battle. She alleged abuse. She wanted to move to Argentina with the children. Those allegations were unfounded and a Colorado judge granted Burns the primary parent and urging them to live here in Colorado.

(on camera): It must have felt victorious for you to get that judges' ruling.

BURNS: It was one of the happiest days of my life. And I was like, I'm going to be able to spend time with my daughters finally and live with them and be able to teach them things and show them things and raise my -- my kids here in Colorado. That's all I ever wanted.

Sophia. Victoria.

BURNS (voice-over): But just three weeks later, in September 2013, his girls were gone. Taken by their mom to Buenos Aires. And they've been there since.

There are currently thousands of similar unresolved international custody cases where a parent has abducted their own children. The State Department receives about 1200 new cases each year, children from the U.S. taken to countries all around the world.

Now, to see his daughters, Burns must travel to Buenos Aires at his own expense. When the girls were first taken, it was 17 months before his ex-wife allowed him to visit.

(on camera): Describe for me what it was like for you to see your daughters after that 17 months of separation.

BURNS: That was a beautiful day. I saw -- first saw Victoria get out of the car and she saw me and she screamed, "Pa, Pa." She came running across the parking lot and jumped into my arms. It was just -- it was wonderful. I hugged her so much. And it was -- it was a beautiful moment.

CABRERA (voice-over): Argentina is one of more than 80 countries to sign a treaty that was meant to resolve these cases in as little as six weeks. That rarely happens.

CAROLINE LANGLEY, DENNIS BURNS' ATTORNEY: When a child is ripped from their home environment, from their friends, family, they begin to idea with their abductor. So now the psychological trauma to the children starts on that slippery slope where it's difficult now to pull them back from being so aligned with the abductor.

CABRERA: Burns invited CNN to go with him on a recent visit with his daughters but asked that we stay in the car. Here you can see the girls excitedly opening the gifts that he brought them. A few minutes later, his ex-wife and several lawyers interrupt, serving Burns and attorneys with charges of violence against women and children without providing specifics. It's a known tactic in cases like this to create more legal barriers. The result, the visit cut short.


CABRERA: And when they saw our crew.



CABRERA: Her lawyers swatted away our camera. We left quickly catching a glimpse of his Victoria and Sophia in tears.

BURNS: My visit was a total of about five minutes and all of the sudden the ambush came out.

CABRERA: CNN reached out to the ex-wife and her attorney to hear their side of the story. They didn't want to talk. Instead, we got a statement in Spanish that translates to, "Ms. Alianelli does not wish to make a comment with respect to the case." Now Burns remains in legal limbo. There's no question the children were abducted. The courts in the U.S. and Argentina have confirmed that the girls were abducted. But the girl's mother has appealed the latest ruling in Argentina. And now the Supreme Court in Buenos Aires has to weigh in.

BURNS: I haven't been able to see my daughters again in over a month. You know, it's just -- it's cruel. It's just cruel and -- and just not fair. It's not fair to them or my family. It's just not fair at all.

CABRERA: The financial strain forced him into bankruptcy, his home foreclosed. Now living in a small one-bedroom apartment where every corner provides priceless memories. Even their tiny coats left hanging by the door.

BURNS: It just makes me feel their presence.

CABRERA: Burns does have support. He's working with David Goldman, who has been in his shoes. You may remember Goldman's story that drew international attention. It took him five and a half years to get his son returned from Brazil. He has since you started a foundation and made it its mission to help other parents going through this. His life with Sean today gives Burns hope.

DAVID GOLDMAN, FOUNDER, BRING SEAN HOME FOUNDATION: He's thriving. He's playing lacrosse. He's playing basketball on the travel team. He's 5'9". He just turned 13 and is 5'9".

BURNS: For now, there are still no school pictures or days of being a soccer dad for Burns. Until the Buenos Aires Supreme Court hears his case, all he can do is wait.

BURNS: I don't have the opportunity with them to get them out of bed in the morning, make them breakfast, take them to school, help them with their homework, help them tie their shoes and brush their teeth. I just want to be able to know that they're there every day and be able to hug and love them.

Ana Cabrera, CNN, Aspen, Colorado.


BANFIELD: And thank you, Ana Cabrera, for that exclusive report.

I want to bring in Alan Dershowitz, lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School. He's also the author of "Standing the Stand, My Life in the Law."

Alan, it's great to have you on this.

I don't get it. If we have a an abduction treaty and both countries agree that that mother abducted those children, how is it that while the process plays out they're not with the father, who is not suspected of doing something? ALAN DERSHOWITZ, ATTORNEY, LAW PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL & AUTHOR: Well, I'm not even sure they'll ever be returned to their father. In my book, I explain how the law really always fails when it comes to family conflict. That family dynamics often trump over treaties. Here you have a situation where the Argentine government clearly would prefer for the child, the children to be brought up in Argentina. They think it's a better place than America. Also, the law in South America generally favors mothers over fathers. So, sure, everybody signs the treaty. But then they drag their feet. When it comes to disgorging children from what they believe are a loving mother, we describe the mother as an abductor. The law and certainly the children don't think of their mother as an abductor. They think of her as a loving mother who took great steps to be with her children. And the law plays a very, very small role in actually bringing about the desired result here.

#; Would we in America do the same thing if the rules were reversed and a father took off with his two girls from that country and brought them here and he was accused of abducting them?

DERSHOWITZ: Yeah. We would probably be a little more efficient because the rule of law operates more stringently in America than it does in Argentina. But we have cases too where we've been reluctant to return children to foreign countries. In the Gonzalez (ph) case, we did that and that became an outcry. It became a big issue in the United States. So the law, politics, emotions, family life all play an important role. And when you're dealing in transnational cases, and we live in one world now, it's very easy to get on a plane with your children and fly them anywhere in the world. We see these cases happening a lot in Muslim countries and in Israel. We see it happening in France. There's a famous case involving an actress where this is going on today in France and Germany. So it's an international problem. And treaties have not solved the problem. They've made it a little better. And maybe in the end this will work out. But it takes forever and the law plays a relatively small role when it comes to family dynamics of this kind.

BANFIELD: Very distress to watch it in real-time.

DERSHOWITZ: Very distressing.

Alan Dershowitz, nice to see you. Thank you, sir.

DERSHOWITZ: Thank you.

BANFIELD: And I want to update you on some of the news that we broke to you at the top of this hour. Take a look at your screen. A team of architects has now made a decision that New York's One World Trade Center is the tallest tower in the country, and it is, indeed, taller than Chicago's Willis Tower. You may remember it as the Sears Tower. Big battle between who was going to have the bragging rights. The tallest, it's official, New York. Well deserved New York. You've been through a lot.

Kids, this comes under the banner of "don't try this at school or at home." Ah! That's a Harlem Globetrotter nicknamed Bull. Very lucky he didn't suffer any serious injuries when he dumped that ball. He had been hanging on to the rim with his feet on the backboard and it gave way. But look at that, just a band Band-Aid. He came out it. Other than that, shocking when you see the result. Ouch. Bang. He's OK. Otherwise, he's OK.

All right. So moving on with our top stories of the day. Back in the Philippines, there are so many people who have lost so much, in fact everything. And now they are begging for food, for water and for shelter. And they're sending personal messages to their loved ones everywhere around the world. The first-hand accounts of this tragedy, and it's really something you just have to see.


BANFIELD: Companies, banks and the NBA are joining a growing list of donors who have pledged millions of dollars for support and relief in the Philippines. Global banking group HSBC and telecom giant Samsung have each offered $1 million. The IKEA Foundation has donated $2.6 million. And the NBA and the NBA player's union has given a total of $500,000.

I wouldn't normally ask this of you, but if you're just listening, I would like you to come to the television and read what's happening. The survivors of the typhoon are taking the only opportunity they have to communicate of their loved ones and that's through the lens of the video cam camera.









BANFIELD: That is very difficult to watch that and not want to help out in some way. CNN's Impact Your World has a list of organizations that are providing relief to the Philippines. You can log on to and choose any array of ways you can help out. And they certainly need anything that they can get.

President Bill Clinton says that President Obama should honor his commitment in making sure that people have the health care plan that they need. Going to take you live to the White House next.


BANFIELD: This news just into the CNN. Former president Clinton is saying that President Obama should honor the commitment that he made to people who had health insurance that they wanted to keep. You've heard the speeches and you've heard the criticism that maybe that's not necessarily the case, right.

Jim Acosta joins us live from the White House with more on that.

This is making big headlines because even the former president is saying that if the law needs to be changed so be it. What's happening at the White House?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We haven't gotten official White House reaction yet, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is scheduled to have a briefing within the hour or so, Ashleigh. He is going to get asked this question, you can guarantee that.

At the same time, we should point out, you know, this is just the latest example of a top Democrat within the party basically saying that the president, you made this pledge, this promise to the American people. If you like your plan, you can keep it. You have to keep that pledge. It's from former president Bill Clinton. He gave an interview to a new website called which the best I can gather was started just recently by a former Democratic Party operative, Carlos Watson. As a matter of fact, Carlos Watson does the interview with Clinton. Let's put the quote up on screen. It says, "I personally believe even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they've got."

Just to the give you context, the president just didn't start this interview and fire off at the president. He talked about the various things going on with the implementation of Obamacare, why it's not going so well. He talked about the fact that the website has been down that's gotten in the way of a lot of people signing up for coverage. He compared that to the roll out of Medicare Part D, the Prescription Drug Bill signed by President Bush. That program had similar implementation problems. He also talks about some of the Medicaid issues in states that have not adopted the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

At the very end of this chunk of video, which we hope to bring to you soon, the president does talk about the fact that he believes people who are now losing their insurance plan, and in some cases we're seeing millions of people reporting this, that those people should be able to keep those plans. A very similar position, we should add, Ashleigh, to what a lot of other Democrats are saying right now, vulnerable Senate Democrats running for re-election next year, Mary Landrieu being one. They're saying the law should be changed to allow people to keep their plan if they like them -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Thank you, Jim Acosta.

We're going to talk to one of those Democrats up for re-election next year. He's the majority whip in the Senate.

There are a lot of lawmakers who have calling for a system-wide fix to The man directly to the right of me, Dick Durbin, is going to join me live in 60 seconds.


BANFIELD: People in charge of Obamacare are promising to give us some real numbers of the actual enrollments in the online insurance marketplaces by the middle of the month. But if you check your calendar, today is the 12th. And the media estimates so far are not very encouraging. Just 50,000. 50,000 new policies by one count. It's based on data from insurance companies. It is not data that's confirmed by the government. CNN is estimating it another 60,000 signed up on the exchanges run by the 14 states and the District of Columbia. The administration's target was 800,000 overall by November 30th.

That said, we should point out that Medicaid signups appear to be going through the roof. A private market research firm estimates that more than 400,000, 400,000 low-income Americans signed up for government-run health care in 10 states. Again, official numbers are not yet available but should be soon.

Clearly, it's been a rough six weeks for Obamacare defenders in Washington and beyond. Just ask Dick Durbin, the second ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate. He's the majority whip and he's my guest live this hour in the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Thank you so much, Senator, for joining us.

Let's talk about this. President Clinton news for the president to say he personally believes even if it takes a change in the law, President Obama needs to honor the promise that you get to keep your health care. Is this going to cause problems, or are most Democrats going to start saying that?

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D), ILLINOIS: Ashleigh, I think we need to look at the political reality. We need to be open to constructive changes to make this law work better, but there are those, frankly, who don't want it to work at all. If those on the other side are willing to sit down in a constructive fashion, move us toward our goal making health insurance available to more and more Americans and reducing costs, that's a good positive thing to do. I would say to President Clinton, if we can bring that bipartisan group together, we can start to solve some of the problems we're facing.

BANFIELD: So there's a GOP House vote later this week on a proposal that's going to authorize insurance companies to for one year continue to offer the plans they're currently canceling for people. A lot of Democrats in the Senate have the suggested that they'd like to offer a similar proposals. How do you stand on that? Would you like to see that happen, legislation to continue allowing people to keep their policies at least for a year?

DURBIN: Let's take a close look at some of those proposals. Some of those are not friendly proposals. They're designed to derail this effort. Keep in mind what we're putting in insurance policies, that they cannot be canceled if you or someone in your family has a pre- existing condition, no lifetime limits on the payouts for cancer victims and people facing enormous medical bills. These are things which should be part of insurance policy. If we start taking them away, then, frankly, it's going to be difficult for the insurance industry to produce a product that really is going to serve our needs and that they can adequately tell us what it costs.

BANFIELD: You know, Senator Durbin, we traffic a lot of comments that come in and out of our news channel daily. So many critics have said President Obama lied. I mean they're using the "L" word liberally to say he lied, this whole idea that you can keep your health insurance if you like it. Did he lie, or was this a colossal mistake? How did that happen?

DURBIN: A couple more sentences added would clarify it. The president apologized. He said very clearly he was sorry if he misled people. Here's the bottom line. The bottom line is, in my state of Illinois, 1.8 million people have no health insurance. Across our nation, 40 million without health insurance. If we are going to move beyond this sorry state and give people the peace of mind.

BANFIELD: I agree. I want to know how it happened though. If we're going to move beyond it, we need to know what the mistake that just slipped by everybody? How did this happen, Senator?

DURBIN: It should have been added in this private insurance market every two years, two out of three policies are canceled and changed. This happens frequently in this niche of the market, this part of the market. It should have been clarified from the start but there home run ways to resolve this.

BANFIELD: Who gave the president those talking points? Who wrote those speeches?


BANFIELD: He went out over and over again and said it.

DURBIN: I certainly wasn't in on that decision. We've got to keep our eye on the goal.


BANFIELD: You also said it, sir. Senator, you also said it.


BANFIELD: Over and over again, you said it, if you like your policy, you can keep it.

DURBIN: Well, I said it because I believed it. Now I know I should have added, for 98 percent of American people, that is exactly true. For the other 2 percent in the individual market, there is frequent changes in policies. People are used to increases in their premiums and changes in their policies. That is something that's a reality. It should have been clarified.

BANFIELD: Senator Durbin, it's great of you to join us. I do appreciate you taking the time especially with your trip to Atlanta. Thank you.

Thanks for watching everybody. Good to have you with us.

AROUND THE WORLD starts right now with Suzanne Malveaux and Michael Holmes.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Fighting to survive, people in the Philippines are desperate for help and things might get just worse.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I hear, many cry, many people crying. Many people say help them.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Horrific stories of families torn apart by this storm. This mother was able to save her baby, but lost her husband.

MALVEAUX: Welcome to AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. Thanks for your company today.