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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf; New VA Scandal Report; Obama Escapes the White House Bubble; Documentary Examines Immigration Crisis
Aired June 27, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All that coming up, but we have some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Just got a readout of a high-level meeting over at the White House on the scandal involving care for America's military veterans, scandal that was initially exposed nationally by CNN.
There's now a new outline for action in a scathing report on the entire problem highlighting what is being called the corrosive culture within the VA.
Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
You have been going through this report, Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BLITZER: It's scathing.
ACOSTA: It's very scathing, Wolf.
And we know the president just returned from this trip from Minnesota. He met with his acting VA secretary and also a top White House official, Rob Nabors, who delivered a scathing review of operations at Veterans Administration hospitals.
The review said that the VA's guidelines to get veterans to see doctors within a 15 -- or -- excuse me -- 14-day window was -- quote -- and let's put it up on screen here -- "arbitrary, ill-defined and misunderstood and should be replaced with a more insightful measure."
It goes on to say, "It is unrealistic -- an unrealistic goal, causes confusion and in some cases may have incentivized inappropriate actions and that the VHA needs to be restructured and reformed."
The report goes on to conclude that the VA had a corrosive culture which led to personnel problems that are seriously impacting morale and by extension the timeliness of the health care that veterans receive. The president asked Nabors to stay on in his advisory role temporarily at the VA to help implement these changes. And, Wolf, this is exactly the kind of news that the White House
was expecting. They know, having fired essentially Eric Shinseki -- he resigned, but he was basically forced out -- that when this review was coming, it was not going to be pretty and this was basically a confirmation of that today.
BLITZER: The more we learn, including in this report, the worse it appears to be.
ACOSTA: That's right.
And it seems that these guidelines that the VA had for years to try to make sure that veterans were seen within this 14-day window was just never adhered to within the agency. And so What you saw, because of the corrosive culture that report talks about, you saw personnel really just going rogue at VA facilities around the country, having secret waiting lists, and that sort of thing that really hid the problems that were going on inside the VA system.
And so that is why you're seeing the president today asking Rob Nabors, a trusted adviser, the deputy chief of staff at the White House, to stay on at the agency overseeing what's happening there. And in the meantime, he still has -- the president has still not picked a permanent VA secretary. Sloan Gibson is the acting secretary right now.
And he had only been on the job for a few months before he was given this acting secretary role. I'm told by White House officials that the president is getting closer to naming a VA secretary. They're just not there yet. And this may be part of the problem. There just are too many problems that are identified in this report that they need to get a handle on before they put somebody new in there.
BLITZER: Are there specific recommendations included in this report?
ACOSTA: Yes. There are specific recommendations that they're talking about. The review suggests figuring out some best practices for delivering timely care.
It also warns that measuring these wait times should not be as an indicator of whether health care has been delivered. The reviewers also suggest more transparency and take -- quote -- "swift accountability and more doctors and support staff."
You heard the president when he announced that Eric Shinseki was stepping down that he wanted to see a surge of doctors and nurses and personnel to help implement better scheduling policies at the VA. That's the next step. The question of course is where the money comes and can a new VA secretary really take on this task?
They're really going to need somebody, Wolf, who can take on this behemoth at the VA and implement these reforms, big, big challenge. BLITZER: Yes, I think it reinforces what we have known now for a
while, when Drew Griffin and our CNN Investigations team began investigating these delays, these wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs at these hospitals at Phoenix and elsewhere. He was on to a huge problem. We didn't know how big it was at that time.
ACOSTA: Neither did the White House until they saw the report on CNN.
BLITZER: Yes, I think you're right. All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta. Don't go too far away.
ACOSTA: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Working another story for us later this hour as welcome.
Right now, also we're monitoring a new level of danger in the battle for Iraq, from mass executions to deadly firepower. Both ISIS terrorists and Iraqi forces, they are now being accused of massive atrocities. CNN has obtained disturbing new video.
And in the midst of this brutal conflict, the United States has now launched armed drones into the skies over Baghdad.
Our national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is joining us with more -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, now, these drones are armed purely for force protection -- that is, to respond to any attacks on the U.S. military advisers that are now being deployed to Iraq.
In addition to armed drones, there are also armed manned flights over Iraq as well. That, though, is standard when flying in hostile environments. Defense officials tell us that U.S. forces are ready for additional missions, including the possibility of airstrikes on ISIS, if that order comes down from the president. But the president has yet to order those strikes.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): American drones armed with Hellfire missiles are now patrolling the skies over Baghdad. But they will not go after ISIS targets, flying instead to provide protection for 180 U.S. military advisers deployed to Iraq.
(on camera): They are prepared to use military force from the air, if necessary?
REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We're certainly prepared if -- you know, if the commander in chief decides that he wants to employ airstrikes, our job is to be ready to do that as soon as possible. SCIUTTO (voice-over): Frustrated by the lack of American air
support, Iraq has now turned to Russia, buying secondhand Russian fighter jets, just the latest in a string of American adversaries from Syria to Iran now aiding Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slammed the U.S. in an interview with the BBC, saying Iraq could have repelled ISIS advances if the U.S. had delivered F-16s first ordered three years ago.
NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): If we had air cover, we could have prevented what has happened in this country.
SCIUTTO: Those F-16s, say U.S. officials, are just weeks away, though Maliki has also asked for airstrikes on ISIS by American warplanes. Syrian jets are already carrying out strikes on ISIS targets. These are some of ISIS' work, two mass graves believed to contain bodies of Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians, murdered in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
A new report by Human Rights Watch analyzed ISIS photos and concluded the militants executed three groups of men numbering in the hundreds, though the group claims a death toll even higher. While the U.S. deliberates military action in Iraq, today, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the president of the opposition in Syria, following a White House decision to seek $500 million to train and equip the moderate Syrian rebels.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talking about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL's presence.
SCIUTTO: A potentially damaging development on the political today in Iraq, the leader of Iraqi Kurds in the north, Massoud Barzani, declaring today that Kirkuk, the city that Kurds seized in the chaos just a couple of weeks ago, is now permanently a part of Kurdistan in the north.
Secretary Kerry on our trip to Iraq, he met with Barzani. Secretary Kerry told us that he encouraged him, in his words, to be a statesman, to delay Kurdistan's long-term aspirations in the interests of a short-term stability in Iraq. But it appears, Wolf, that Barzani did not heed Secretary Kerry's call.
BLITZER: Yes, the Kurds long have wanted Kirkuk. They have it now. And I suspect they're not about to give it up any time soon.
All right, thanks very much, Jim Sciutto.
We also have new details on U.S. troops movements in response to this escalating crisis in Iraq.
Let's bring back our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems like we're here every day telling you about just a few more troops on the way.
This time, 1,000 Marines on board a massive amphibious warship, the USS Bataan, are headed in fact to the Arabian Gulf. They have been on station in the Mediterranean, but now they are being redirected back to Persian Gulf.
They will be on standby, no indication that they have orders to actually do anything, but it's adding to muscle power in that region.
Now there will be a total of eight warships, about 2,000 Marines, dozens of planes and helicopters in the region. So, it's just adding to all of the firepower and muscle power in the region. And as the Pentagon keeps saying, the president hasn't ordered airstrikes, but they are getting things in place and they will be ready if he does -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It sounds like potentially these troops, these ships, the Marines, the sailors, the others, the airpower that's going into the northern Arabian Gulf or the Persian Gulf, whatever you want to call it, could be designed if necessary, and let's hope it doesn't come down to that, rescuing some of those 5,000 Americans who are still in Baghdad.
STARR: Absolutely, Wolf.
They are fully prepared for a full evacuation of American citizens out of Iraq, those in Baghdad, those that may be somewhere else. That's why you're seeing so many ships with aircraft and especially helicopters on board. If they have to do it, they will have to move very quickly.
BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, disturbing developments there. Thank you.
Let's go to Iraq right now, where CNN has been investigating allegations of atrocities. We want to warn you, the images we're about going to show are graphic and the stories, they are disturbing.
Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is in Baghdad. She has exclusive new video and interviews.
Arwa, tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world what you're learning.
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for weeks now, we have been reporting on these atrocities carried out by ISIS, the mass executions carried out by their fighters as they have swept through the northern portion of the country.
But now there are disturbing allegations this time of the execution of Sunni detainees at the hands of Iraqi security forces. And, again, we have to emphasize to our viewers the report they're about to see is very, very disturbing.
DAMON (voice-over): The woman stands over her brother's lifeless corpse found in a room with other bodies in a detention facility in Tal Afar. "He was killed," she says, clearly still in shock. "They killed a lot. I don't know."
Survivors say it was Iraqi guards who carried out a mass slaughter against Sunni prisoners. This video obtained by CNN matches a room that Amnesty International says was the site where one of the killings took place.
Some of the bodies and the survivors were brought to a hospital in Mosul by gunmen affiliated with ISIS.
"For three days, there was ongoing shelling. On the last night, at 2:00 a.m., three guards came into our cell. There were 36 of us," this wounded man who was held in the same prison says. "They opened fire with a machine gun. Me and four others were wounded. After about two hours, they died. The rest died."
In a separate incident, these bodies were found dumped in a ditch close to an abandoned potato factory in Mosul, some of them believed by witnesses to have also been executed by Iraqi forces a few days before they withdrew from the anti-terrorism detention facility in Mosul.
This man, who asked that we conceal his identity and voice, says he was being held in that facility.
"The guards were screaming out names. They took 15 of them and handcuffed them together," he says, "and they took them away."
He says he went to this site and recognized some of the bodies as those who were held in the same facility, accused of having committed serious crimes. Amnesty International has been investigating these and other alleged killings of Sunni detainees while in custody of Iraqi forces, saying, "The killings suggest a worrying pattern of reprisal attacks against Sunnis in retaliation for ISIS gains."
(on camera): The spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council tells CNN that while they're aware of these allegations, no families or witnesses have come forward with such claims and no one has officially asked for an investigation.
But, he says, they're monitoring the developments.
(voice-over): This battlefield has seen horrific sectarian atrocities. Human Rights Watch says that it has now confirmed that bodies of Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians found in a shallow mass grave in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit were executed by ISIS.
On all sides, the worry that humanity and compassion is lost.
(END VIDEOTAPE) DAMON: And, Wolf, with these atrocities, which amount to war
crimes, we're also seeing the hatred, the fear, the sectarian divide grow even greater in a country that's dangerously close to unraveling -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Just when you think it can't get worse, it gets a whole lot worse.
Arwa Damon, thanks very much for your reporting.
Up next, the State Department deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, she's walking into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. We have a lot to discuss. Stand by.
MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Absolutely.
BLITZER: We're following the escalating battle for Iraq and the flash points across the region.
There's a lot to talk about with the deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, Marie Harf. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM, with us once again.
Marie, thanks very much for coming in.
All right, so Nouri al-Maliki tells us the BBC -- you just heard it -- that he wants to get fighter jets now from Russia and Belarus. He says the U.S. is too slow in delivering its commitments. He's basically blaming the United States for some of the problems he's now facing.
Is this a loyal ally? Is this someone who should be grateful to the United States for the blood and treasure that the U.S. provided for over nearly a decade there?
HARF: Wolf, I think that this kind of blame of others in the outside is, quite frankly, part of what's gotten Iraq into the situation it's in today.
It's helped create this crisis. When we left Iraq, we gave the Iraqis the ability to create a better future. And, unfortunately, leaders across the spectrum didn't step up and didn't take that opportunity. They blamed others and they didn't bring the country together. So, look, we're going to work with them as they fight this threat, but they need to stop looking outside of Iraq and start doing a little bit more looking in the mirror at what they actually have to do.
BLITZER: What do you think of the decision by him to go ahead and ask Russia and Belarus for warplanes?
HARF: Well, we said that other countries can provide assistance to Iraq, some of what we're doing as well. There's a process to do that, if it's all in the service of
promoting inclusiveness, of helping fight ISIL, but doing that underneath this broad rubric of inclusiveness in the government. So, look, if Russia is willing to do that, obviously, they need a lot of help right now.
BLITZER: What do you think about his statement that he welcomes Bashar al-Assad's air force coming in to bomb ISIS targets inside Iraq?
HARF: Well, as I said the other night, I think, on this very show, the Iraqi security challenge is not going to be solved by the Assad remember.
The reason ISIL is so strong today, the reason they're such a force is because of the Assad regime. So, it's counterintuitive, I think, to think that the same regime that's allowed this terrorist group to flourish and grow in strength would be part of the solution here.
BLITZER: The secretary of state -- we discussed this -- John Kerry, he goes to Baghdad. He makes a direct appeal to Nouri al- Maliki, the prime minister, who then, after Kerry leaves, seems to do not what he wants. He seems to do the opposite. Is that a friend?
HARF: Well, we have seen Prime Minister Maliki say publicly he's committed to forming a government as soon as possible.
We have seen the Iraqi vice president say that. Today, we saw Grand Ayatollah Sistani say the same thing, that they need to come together and form an inclusive government as soon as possible. And, look, I think we're going to see in the next few days whether Iraq's leaders are up to the challenge, whether they step up to the plate, realize the emergency that's at hand, and really some take steps to do things differently.
BLITZER: You don't really think they will, though, do you?
HARF: Well, I think the -- I do think Iraq's leaders understand how serious the situation is I think they look around their country and they know they need to do things differently.
If you look at the last election in Iraq, what all of the candidates ran on, even Prime Minister Maliki, was change and doing things differently. And I think the -- what's happened in the last few weeks has certainly underscored that .
BLITZER: Yesterday, the Obama administration asked Congress to approve $500 million to equip, train, arm moderate Syrian rebels fighting ISIS in Syria, fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime.
There's a lot concern, though, you give them those weapons, they could wind up end up in the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime or wind up in the hands of ISIS. That's -- look what's happened in Iraq.
HARF: Well, that's why we vet people before we give them any assistance.
BLITZER: What guarantees that they can use those weapons, hold on to those weapons and make sure those weapons don't get into the wrong hands?
HARF: Well, we go through a very vigorous vetting process, which I think is what actually leads some people to think that this should happen more quickly.
But we do this very deliberately to try and prevent exactly what you're saying, because the opposition, the moderate opposition is fighting a war on two fronts.
They're fighting the Assad regime and they're fighting ISIL and they need more help. And that's what we're going to provide.
BLITZER: Because I'm sure that the moderate Syrian rebels that you are vetting, on paper, they look great. They hate Bashar al- Assad, they hate ISIS.
But the question is, do they have the military capability of securing those weapons, securing what the United States is about to provide them and make sure that they don't get in the wrong hands?
They have good intentions, but how capable are they really?
HARF: Well, we're working with them to improve their capabilities in exactly that way.
We have been working with them for several years now. We have continued to increase our assistance to them. And as we find members of the moderate opposition we do think can get this assistance and use it to fight the Assad region and to fight these terrorists, we're going to help them do it.
BLITZER: Because you saw what happened in Mosul. The U.S. left a lot of tanks, armored personnel carries, sophisticated equipment, mortars, all sorts of stuff there.
The Iraqi military which the U.S. trained and equipped at the cost of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, they simply took off their uniforms, ran away. ISIS got control of tank after tank, row after row of this kind of stuff. It's a serious problem.
HARF: It is. And, look, there's always a risk there. I don't think anyone is naive about that.
But you make a judgment. And you vet people, and you, at the end of the day say, it's important enough that we need to train and equip these members of the opposition. We need to send assistance to the Iraqi army, because it's so important that we help them get back on their feet and really improve their capabilities.
BLITZER: Secretary Kerry made a major effort to try to secure some sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He made many trips -- you were on many of those trips -- to meet with the Israelis and the Palestinians. And now that seems to have ended.
And Martin Indyk, a special Middle East peace negotiator, he resigned today.
So, is it over?
HARF: It's not. It's not. The whole team is still in place.
Frank Lowenstein will be stepping in. He's worked for the secretary for a long time and has very involved in these negotiations. Look, this has been the work of Ambassador Indyk's life. And right now, while we're in a pause in the negotiations, he thought it was appropriate to go back to the Brookings Institute.
But we are trying to get the parties back to the table. We're talking to them both every day, trying to see if they will come back in a meaningful way. But, until they do, we will keep having those conversations, because the secretary and everyone else is certainly still committed to this.
BLITZER: Marie Harf, thanks for coming back.
HARF: Thank you.
BLITZER: Marie Harf is the deputy spokeswoman at the State Department.
Just ahead, does President Obama have a hankering for fast food, or is there another reason he's been sneaking out of the White House so often?
And a key player on team USA is injured. Will that hurt America's prospects of winning its next big World Cup match?
BLITZER: There's a new unofficial game here in Washington. Guess where President Obama may show up next?
The commander in chief has popped up at all sorts of places lately, grabbing something to eat, hobnobbing with regular Americans. The stops may seem impromptu, but there appears to be a calculated strategy behind them.
Here's our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
ACOSTA: Wolf, the National Zoo is actually a few miles up the road from here, but there's a self-described bear in captivity here at the White House that's feeling the urge to break out of his cage.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Lost in the political wilderness for months... BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm finding lately
that I just want to say what's on my mind. So, let me...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
OBAMA: Can't be regular. Can't be routine.
ACOSTA: ... it's fair to say President Obama is doing more than working through some cabin fever these days.
OBAMA: The bear is loose.
ACOSTA: Now these presidential bear sightings happen every week.
But this creature of Washington is hungering for more than coffee runs and fast food. As he told a town hall in Minnesota...
OBAMA: I'm like a caged bear, and every once in a while I break loose.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, it's a bear.
ACOSTA: Unlike the actual bear that tried to escape to the Minnesota woods, Mr. Obama wants to reconnect with the voters outside the White House fence and beyond the beltway noise.
OBAMA: Critics and the cynics in Washington, you know, they've written me off more times than I can count.
ACOSTA: Now the White House is make these getaways part of his schedule by having the president spend more time with everyday Americans. This week it was Rebekah Ehler's turn. She's a Minnesota mom who wrote a letter to the president about her struggles making ends meet.
REBEKAH EHLER, MINNESOTA MOTHER: I got the chance to start a conversation.
ACOSTA: With the president's poll numbers approaching record lows, after bearish stories form Obamacare to the V.A., Democratic strategists say the looser the better.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's an election year so there's no question that the president will visit not just those important states but those not-so-important districts. So I'm sure that there's a little bit of politics in all of this.
ACOSTA: No surprise with the midterm election battle with Republicans underway, the claws are coming out.
OBAMA: They don't do anything except block me. And call me names.
ACOSTA: The president prefers the bear, and aides say he's out to convince Americans that Washington can be more than the circus where he's not the popular exhibit he once was. OBAMA: Cynicism is -- is, you know, popular these days. But
hope is better.
ACOSTA: President Obama is not the first occupant of the White House to see this place as a cage. Harry Truman once referred to it as a glamorous prison. So don't be caught off-guard. Aides say the president will be back on the lose meeting with Americans about their issues later this summer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
Let's bring in Michael Smerconish. He's the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," which airs Saturday mornings, 9 a.m.
Michael, you just heard Jim's piece. Do you think the president is trying to get out of that D.C. bubble? Is that a political strategy? Does he just have cabin fever? What's your assessment?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, "SMERCONISH": I think it's probably a combination of both. I buy into what I heard Donna Brazile talking about the political implications of it. It's good for a president whose approval is only at about 40 percent to get out there and mix and reconnect with the electorate.
But Wolf, it's probably good for his mental health, as well. He's five years in now. That is the ultimate bubble. You know what that environment is like. It's like living in a fishbowl.
And you know, I'll bet he relishes to do what I'm going to do after our conversation tonight, which is to walk a couple of blocks in New York City, meet family members, have a cocktail, eat dinner, interact with some real folks and then call it a night. He doesn't get to have moments like that, and I'm sure that it's frustrating for him.
BLITZER: Let's shift gears. You have a big interview, a major interview tomorrow with the GM whistleblower, Bill McAleer. There have been a lot of recalls, as all of our viewers know, from GM. There's an investigation now underway. He tried to alert GM to the problems with the ignition switches that led to some deaths. I want to play for our viewers part of a clip from what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: And it seems, Mr. McAleer, that what you're really telling me is that, if the problems within the GM culture, as you identified in the letter of July 25, 2002, had been addressed at that time, the ignition switch issue would never have -- grew to what it became?
BILL MCALEER, GM WHISTLEBLOWER: That's exactly what I'm saying. The point I'm trying to make, Michael, is if your environment says a problem is unacceptable. You can't have a problem. That's what happened with the ignition switch. People knew that was a problem, but problems were not acceptable. So they just -- they just ignored it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So Michael, why did GM ignore what he was saying when he spoke up?
SMERCONISH: Well, let me just give you a brief background. So this is a guy, Wolf, who had 36 years in at GM when all was said and done. Long-term employee. He was running for about a decade what they called the corporate quality audit. This is before the ignition issue pops, and he becomes so frustrated that he pens an unbelievable letter to the entire board of directors in 2002. That's two years before the ignition issue was known to GM, and he speak to serious safety defects that he has noticed that they don't act on.
They never formally respond to his letter. They don't acknowledge its receipt, although it exists. We've seen it. I've interviewed him about it. And he says it was a whole culture issue and that, if the culture had changed at the time that he alerted them to these concerns, the ignition issue would have never taken place, and those 13 people would not have died.
BLITZER: Did he raise other problems?
SMERCONISH: A whole myriad of problems. And I should tell you that he also filed a whistle-blower action and was unsuccessful in that regard. I assume that the company position will be one of this is sour grapes on his part. The statement that we've received from GM today is one of saying pretty much if today he were to voice those kinds of concerns, they'd be taken much more seriously.
BLITZER: Important interview. Tomorrow morning we will all be watching. Michael, thanks very much. Smerconish airs Saturday mornings here on CNN, 9 a.m. Eastern; also 6 p.m. Eastern Saturdays, only here on CNN.
Just ahead, President Obama talks tough about the crisis of illegal immigrant children flooding the U.S. border. Stand by for that and a very personal look at the problem.
But first, a reminder of the scope of the scope of the issue and the stakes. Here's CNN's Javier de Diego.
JAVIER DE DIEGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Decades ago the word "immigration" conjured up images of boat at Ellis Island; of course, the State of Liberty. Today it's a different story. The issue is more heated, more politicized, more complicated. Immigrants are now entering the U.S. from every corner. Miami to Seattle, L.A. to New York and especially along the Mexican border.
We're talking more than 40 million immigrants in the United States right now, both legally and illegally. That's roughly 13 percent of our population, making America the No. 1 destination on earth for immigrants. So who are these new arrivals? Well, about a quarter or 11
million are undocumented, a number that's increased almost year by year since 2000. Of those who become legal residents, you'd probably guess a lot of them are from Mexico. You'd be right, 14 percent.
But you might be surprised to find out the next two leading countries of birth for new U.S. residents, China and India. Those are the two most populated countries on the planet.
As for work, the latest labor stats show, by and large, immigrant workers are in the service industry. We're talking hotels, restaurants, gas stations. And they're making a lot less than U.S. born workers, about 160 bucks less per week.
So regardless of how you feel about the issue, there's no doubt immigrants are here to stay, and they play a huge role in the American economy every day.
BLITZER: A new personal appeal today from President Obama to try to ease the humanitarian crisis, the huge influx of young illegal immigrants crossing the southern border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our message absolutely is don't send your children unaccompanied on trains or through a bunch of smugglers. That is our direct message to the families in Central America. Do not send your children to the borders. If they do make it, they'll get sent back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN is taking an in-depth look at immigration. The critically-acclaimed film "Documented" explores the issue through the personal journey of a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas. It debuts Sunday night, 9 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.
Jose is joining us now from New York, along with the Republican congressman, Peter King, and I'm going to get to Jose in a moment. But Congressman King, let me start with you. The House Homeland Security chairman Mike McCaul, he said this week that the estimate is 150,000 unaccompanied children may attempt to cross the U.S./Mexico border this coming year. How do you fix that?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I've heard estimates as high as 99,000, 100,000. General McCaul, I'm sure these numbers aren't accurate at all, so how do you fix it?
Basically, several things. One, we have to convince the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, primarily that they cannot be sending these young children off. They cannot allow them to be coming forward. We also have to have Mexico, secure its southern border, because almost always young children are coming through the southern border of Mexico.
Also, we have to step up prosecution and going after these coyote gangs that are smuggling these kids across the border. Now, we have to make it clear, like the president tried to do, that these children are not going to be allowed to stay in the United States. Now, it sounds harsh and it sounds cruel to have these young children being turned back.
But the fact is that we cannot continue to have these tens of thousands of young kids, many of whom, you know, we don't know if they've been inoculated, what illnesses they may have. They don't speak the language. They don't have family members with them. We have 1- and 13-year-old girls coming across the border who are pregnant. They're subject to sexual abuse.
So it's really -- the real humanitarian issue is to find ways to convince the governments and these families not to allow these children to come across the border.
BLITZER: Jose, I'm going to get to your film in a second, but do you have any thoughts on what the U.S. should be doing about this?
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS, FILMMAKER: I have a lot of thoughts, and I think this is a tragedy all around. And you know, as I listen to Congressman King and as I listen to the president, you know, I can't help but kind of think of history.
Like, look, I understand that a country, our country has a responsibility and a right to protect our borders and to secure our borders. Right? But then I wonder, like, what would have happened if these kids were coming from Italy or Germany or Italy [SIC] or Ireland back in the Ellis Island days. What would they -- what would we have done with these kids?
And to me, it seems as if I understand, of course, what the president has said and what a lot of people are saying are political responses, right? What if this was your kid? Like, do we actually think these kids, these unaccompanied kids, are crossing the border and thinking to themselves, "Oh, some program is going to save me when I get here"? When desperate people are desperate, they do whatever they can to leave.
And what we haven't even really discussed is what are the root causes of this? What responsibility does the United States have with the kind of situation in Guatemala and Honduras and in El Salvador. We haven't even talked about that.
BLITZER: You're raising important issues and I want to -- I want Congressman King to also weigh in on this specific issue.
But, first, I want to play a clip, Congressman, for you. It's a scene where Jose is attending a Mitt Romney rally. This is from his new film that will air here on CNN Sunday. He speaks to Romney supporters afterward about his immigration status. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you in line?
VARGAS: No. But sir, there's no line. I was brought here when I was 12. I didn't know until I was 16. My grandparents were American citizens, didn't tell me.
So, I've been here. I've been paying taxes since I was 18. I want to be able, as you said, to get legal to get in the back of the line somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I think Romney made a point.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want the highly intelligent immigrants here.
VARGAS: Here. Here, if you're here who's undocumented, there's no way for you to get in the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You can see, it's going to be a dramatic film.
Congressman, Romney supporters back in 2012, you saw this little clip, is there a lack of understanding among Republican voters about the need for comprehensive immigration? Because I know your position probably is in the minority among Republicans.
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Listen here, I do believe that we need immigration reform, but I have to disagree with Jose to this extent. We still have -- we do have to secure our borders.
And listen, I'm a grandson of immigrants. I grew up in an immigrant community. I -- my daughter is married to an immigrant. So, I certainly understand the absolute, not just that we're doing them a favor. Immigrants are the life blood of our society. I think probably -- you know, the most dedicated Americans are those who come here at immigrants because of the guts it takes and the initiative it takes to come to a foreign country and to another country, and to leave everything behind you.
So, I am absolutely committed to us being a nation of immigrants. On the other hand, I do believe we have to the extent possible, do it in an orderly process.
Now, as far as the young children, there's been a massive increase over the last several months, and a lot of this has been done by these coyote gangs telling people back in Honduras and Guatemala that if they -- these families, if they bring their children across the border, they will get citizenship.
Now, this is what Secretary Jeh Johnson, the homeland security secretary, testified to the other day. There's this mass publication or distribution of leaflets in these countries, telling the families that if they send their kids across the border, they will get these citizenship status, or they'll get amnesty pass. I think it's a term they're using.
So, again, it's changed dramatically over the last several months. And the situation in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has not changed dramatically over the last several months. But this mass migration has begun.
BLITZER: And the deportations, Jose, they continue. I think the estimate that since President Obama took office, the U.S. has been deporting about 400,000 illegal immigrants every year. That's a lot more than occurred every year during the Bush administration.
So, what's going on as far as you can tell?
VARGAS: Well, I mean, I have to say, by the way, that I'm not an illegal immigrant. My being here is here illegally, but I as a person am not illegal. But as a person, I'm not illegal. So, remember, just to make sure that I say that.
But what I think what the real problem here is not only the lack of facts but also the perception, right? So, you have a lot of Republicans saying we can't trust the president to enforce immigration laws. Wait up. You mean the same president who's enforcing the law and has deported nearly 2 million people in five years? If that is not enforcing the law, what is?
And I have to say, by the way, Congressman, I agree with you sir, we have to do this in an orderly fashion. We have to do this in a humane way.
But my question is, are we really asking the hard questions, the root causes of why this is happening. I don't think we understand the desperation that people feel of why they're coming here.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time but I quickly want you to tell us what is your status right now, Jose, here in the United States.
VARGAS: Well, I'm undocumented. I'm the most unprivileged undocumented immigrant in America. People like me get deported and detained every day. And what do I do? I make a film.
And I'm really grateful for CNN for airing this film on Sunday night. And I hope people tune in. If you think I should be deported, if you don't believe in amnesty, please watch the film. There isn't anybody in this country that I will not talk to or engage it.
BLITZER: Let's watch the film Sunday night.
Congressman, I want you to watch it if you can, DVR it.
BLITZER: And we'll continue the conversation. These are critically important issues that we're discussing right now.
Thanks to both of you for joining us.
Be sure to watch the film "Documented", Sunday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m., only here on CNN.
And just ahead, major developments for Team USA at the World Cup.
CNN's Rachel Nichols is standing by with new details of new injuries.
But, first, this "Impact Your World".
BAILEE MADISON, ACTRESS: Do you want lemonade?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Actress Bailee Madison is handing out more than just lemonade. She is serving up hope.
MADISON: Pink, of course, because it will match your outfit.
CUOMO: Madison works with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, which encourages kids to raise money for childhood cancer research by selling lemonade.
MADISON: You're never too young to make a difference, and your voice can be so powerful. No matter if you're singer, or dancer, even actress, you go to school. And no matter what you do in this world, you have a voice. And you can make such an impact. I always say, just go for it.
CUOMO: That's certainly true for bone cancer survivor Kaela Cruz.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Peek-a-boo.
CUOMO: At five years old, she had her left leg amputated above the knee. Today, there is nothing this middle-schooler can't do.
MATTHEW CRUZ, KAELA CRUZ'S DAD: She is involved in taekwondo and swimming. She does not consider herself handicapped in any way. She is differently-abled.
CUOMO: Cruz teamed up with Alex's Lemonade Stand to share her story, raising pediatric cancer awareness and inspiring other kids to never give up.
KAELA CRUZ, CANCER SURVIVOR: If you fall down, get back up, keep trying and believe in yourself. And no matter, if you can do one thing, you can do everything.
BLITZER: Two major stories developing today for Team USA at the World Cup.
CNN's Rachel Nichols is joining us from New York with details.
Rachel, tell us a little bit about what's going on.
RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS: Yes. Well, strike Jozy Altidore, one of the stars of the U.S. team, you may remember, pulled his hamstring just 21 minutes into the World Cup, hasn't played since. But very good news for Team USA today was his third day running around in training. He really looked good. And coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he does expect Jozy to play and be back for that match against Belgium on Tuesday. So, that is huge for the U.S.
Now the bad news, Jermaine Jones' doctor found today, did indeed break his nose in the last game. If you're keeping track, that's two broken noses on Team USA, including also Clint Dempsey.
And this is an issue with breathing. Most of these guys are going to play on Tuesday, but you try running around for two 45-minute halves while holding your nose. That's basically what these guys are doing. They've got to breathe through their mouths while also exerting themselves and trying to also play the game in a more strategic way, it's going to be a little bit to deal with.
BLITZER: Yes, that is not easy by any means. And what they do in general is not easy, but especially difficult with a broken nose like that.
As you know, CNN spoke to the USA goalkeeper, Tim Howard, earlier today. I want you and our viewers to listen what he said about the upcoming match on Tuesday against Belgium.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM HOWARD, GOALKEEPER, U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM: I think we match up really well with them. Having said that, they're strong and they're powerful. You know, defensively, they're been rock solid. In the attack, they've got some dangerous and very tricky players. Very much like Germany.
So, we have our work cut out for us. But we feel like we're strong and we're powerful and we've been playing some of the best soccer that this team has seen. So, hopefully, we'll give as good as we get.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's see if they can. The USA team, as you know, remains the underdog. So, what are the chances they can beat Belgium and make it this far and go beyond in this final group of 16?
NICHOLS: Well, Wolf, Belgium is a strong team. They won all three of their opening round matches and they are considered a team that can play beautiful soccer.
But they haven't been doing that so far in this tournament. They've only won each of their matches by one goal. They've got some injury issues as well. Their captain, their
best defensive players, he's struggling with groin issues, may not even play. We'll have to see if the U.S. catches a break there. And they're not an elite team the way Germany was.
The Americans, on the other hand, yes, they are the underdog here, but they are coming in on a heedful of steam of confidence. They feel like, hey, they survived the group of death. They're a ton -- they have what they call Jurgen dust, named after their coach, that confident feeling of a European player that maybe American-born players haven't really had in the past. So, they called themselves sprinkled with Jurgen dust. And as we said, they are getting Jozy Altidore back and that should be a boost for them as well.
BLITZER: More than 10 million Americans watched yesterday's game, even though it was a 12:00 noon on a workday.
Here's the question: is soccer going to emerge from this World Cup more popular in the U.S.?
NICHOLS: Well, that's the thing, right? I mean, they're already making it further than anyone thought they would in this World Cup. We see the crowds everywhere. You got to think, though, this is an event. People get excited for an event, the same way we got excited for the miracle on ice, or rather Olympic hockey events. We have not seen that translate into huge NHL ratings afterward, after those huge hockey events.
So, we'll have to see if anything is different for soccer.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens on Tuesday. Rachel, have a nice weekend. Thanks very much.
Now, remember, you can follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
Please be sure to join us Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM and always watch us live or DVR the show, so you won't miss a moment.
That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.