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Political Battle at the Border; Flood of Undocumented Immigrants from Central America; Faith-Based Charities to the Rescue; Bowe Bergdahl Reintegration Nearly Complete

Aired July 10, 2014 - 11:00   ET



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is unlikely that their children will be able to stay.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: The children are a symptom of policies that have enticed them to come.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR: The Democratic president, the Republican governor, can a handshake and smile bring two sides together? The political battle at the border.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN CO-ANCHOR: CNN, meanwhile, is live at the Mexican border @THISHOUR, a look at what President Obama would see if he visited the area.

Plus, undocumented immigrants are crossing Guatemala's border into Mexico on rafts and get this. That ride costs about $1.30.

BERMAN: Amazing picture, that is.

Then, Bowe Bergdahl's reintegration into everyday life, it is almost complete, so has he spoken to his family yet? And the new image of the U.S. soldier while he was held captive.

Hello, everyone. Great to see you today. I'm John Berman.

PEREIRA: And I'm Michaela Pereira. Those stories and much more, right now, @THISHOUR

BERMAN: And unfolding @THISHOUR, the humanitarian crisis at the border takes center stage on Capitol Hill. President Obama is urging Congress to take swift action on his $3.7 billion plan.

PEREIRA: It is aimed at stemming the tide of undocumented immigrants on the U.S./Mexican border. The plan includes funding for border security as well as efforts to crack down on smugglers, those coyotes.

The president issued a plea and a warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation, and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay.

I've asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm's way in this fashion.


BERMAN: Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will push the president's proposed emergency fix when he speaks at a Senate hearing. That's coming up in just a few hours, but no one should be expecting any kind of speedy action or vote here.

PEREIRA: All of this follows President Obama's trip to Texas where he spoke with Governor Rick Perry.

Republicans, even some Democrats, are upset, though, that the president didn't visit the border.

BERMAN: Why didn't he go? The president says he's not interested in photo ops and theater, but Governor Perry says not so fast.

He spoke to our Kate Bolduan this morning.


PERRY: It's not theater. The American people expect to see their president when there is a disaster.

He showed up at Sandy. Why can't he show up on the border of Texas?


PEREIRA: Tens of thousands of underage immigrants desperate for a better life are fleeing their countries. They're mostly coming from Central America, specifically Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador.

BERMAN: We're going to trace their harrowing journey. Gary Tuchman is on the border between Guatemala and Mexico, but we want to begin with Alina Machado who is along the U.S./Mexican border.


ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there is a strong border patrol presence in this area, the closer you get to the Rio Grande where we are, the greater the presence, and the reason is because just on the other side of the Rio Grande you can see Mexico.

I'm having my photographer pan over so you can see. That is the Mexican side. On the side where we are is where the U.S. is. It's a natural border between both countries.

Now we wanted to get a sense of what it was like away from the border in town, in McAllen, Texas, and we went there yesterday. We found a Catholic charities shelter where many of these immigrants, children and adults, go through for a shower, for a change of clothing before they board a bus and head to other parts of the country where they may have family members.

And at this shelter, we found a mobile clinic that is helping help care for these immigrants. Take a listen to what the owner of this clinic told us.


RAYMOND SANCHEZ, OWNER OF MOBILE HEALTH CLINIC: We have no knowledge of where they're coming from, what detention center area.

But we've seen sometimes where let's say 30 come in a bus, which is a shuttle bus from the city, and we'll see let's say 80 percent.

And then there's times where the same number come by and we'll see 25 percent.

MACHADO: Of people who are sick.

SANCHEZ: Yeah. So it just varies. It varies a lot.


MACHADO: Some of the most common complaints they've been treating at that clinic are dehydration and also cold-like symptoms.

I did ask the owner, how long is that sustainable? How long can they continue to help care for these immigrants?

And he said they're prepared to do as long as needed. He is relying on volunteer doctors and nurses to get this done.

John and Michaela?

PEREIRA: Some people have raised concerns about these migrant children carrying contagious diseases. We know they don't get the same vaccinations as we do here in America.

Have these medical professionals seen any evidence of that?

MACHADO: Well, we -- the clinic says they haven't seen anything, and we also talked to the Hidalgo County health department, and they tell us that they have not seen any evidence of tuberculosis, of measles, of any of these contagious diseases.

In fact, they also say they haven't seen any hospitalizations of children. The only reason they've hospitalized -- I believe it was one child for a deep cut, so very, relatively minor issues that they're seeing here.

PEREIRA: Alina, we really appreciate you taking a look at that angle of the story. Thanks so much, a great report there. Now for some of the children in Guatemala, specifically, that journey to the U.S. often begins with a ride on a raft. It costs them a little more than a dollar.

BERMAN: So let's bring in Gary Tuchman right now. He is on the border, the extremely porous border, between western Guatemala and southern Mexico.

Gary, tell us what you've seen there.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Michaela, not only on the border but on a raft. You know the gondolas in Venice? Well, this is the far more basic version on the muddy shores of the Suchiate River.

I'm here in Guatemala, that behind me is Mexico, and these rafts that are made of wood and inner tubes, many people who want to get to the United States who come from El Salvador, Honduras, this country Guatemala, get on these rafts, go across the border and go into Mexico without any problem whatsoever.

Nothing has changed here. This is the way it's been for generations. People crossing the international frontier, despite the fact that about a 10-minute walk away from me to the right is the official border station where Guatemalan and Mexican officials work.

People who want to cross without papers do it here, they do it absolutely easily, and the price of the ride to go from Mexico into the United States across the Rio Grande, you could pay a coyote thousands of dollars. The price of the ride here is 10 Guatemalan quetzales, which is the equivalent of about $1.30.


TUCHMAN: This is the Suchiate River which separates Mexico from Guatemala. Right now we're in Guatemala, the westernmost part of the country, across the river, the southernmost part of Mexico and you could see throughout this river there are rafts of people who are trying to get across the border and they're doing it very easily

This is very unlike the border going to the United States where you have to be secretive about it. I want to give you a look here to give you an idea of how open this is. There are police here. There are police all over here and no one minds that people are going across the river from here in Guatemala into Mexico.

You can see this family of three, a mother, a father, and their little boy. They told me a short time ago they're getting ready to go on this raft. The rafts are made with these huge inner tubes, and they're getting ready to go across from here in Guatemala into Mexico. They are hoping also to get into the United States.

This river is active from sunrise to sunset, and in addition to all the police being here not caring that people are crossing from here in Guatemala to Mexico, what's really amazing is about a mile in this direction is the official border station. The official border station is right down there, so even though the border patrol people from Guatemala and Mexico work over there, they don't seem to care either.

This is just a very active business, and the going rate right now for crossing is the equivalent of a $1.30.

And this is the family we just met, a little child and his parents. The man in the red shirt with the stick, he's the pilot of this raft, and he's the guy that just got the $1.30.

Typically what happens they will go to the other side, they will go into Mexico. There are taxis and vans and also bicycle taxis on the other side which will take them, in a lot of cases, to a nearby city in Mexico called Tapachula.

In Tapachula they'll stay in shelters and then try to figure out where to go from there, but it is a long way from Tapachula, Mexico, the southern part of Mexico right near here to the United States. It could take them weeks to get there, if they get there successfully, and that's an open question.

The police are not only friendly here, they're actually encouraging us to go for a ride on one of the rafts. They're saying, yeah, go into Mexico, so we are, and this is our skipper.

Your name, sir?


TUCHMAN: This is Paluco (ph). We paid him $1.30 already to go on the raft with him.

Paluco (ph), is this a fun job?


TUCHMAN: Fun? Facil? Easy?

PALUCO (PH): Easy job.

TUCHMAN: You like taking people into Mexico?

PALUCO (PH): Sure.

TUCHMAN: OK. People leave Guatemala, come with Paluco (ph), he takes them to Mexico and then if they succeed, they end up in the United States.

But if you do this in the Rio Grande in Texas, you're going to be in a lot of trouble. You can't do it in front of cops.

But here with Paluco (ph), you can do it in front of everybody.

Paluco (ph) has now taken us into Mexico, but unlike most of the people on the river, we're going to head back into Guatemala and spend the next couple of hours watching people continue to cross this river, heading north.


TUCHMAN: Paluco works about 14 hours a day, so do the other people that pilot the boats. And one thing I should point out, there's a lot of other kinds of business here too.

You can see on this particular raft right here, there's food, frijoles and rice. There's often sodas. And the reason is these boats come from Mexico to Guatemala because groceries in Mexico are much cheaper, so a lot of people are in the business of bringing groceries from Mexico and selling them here in Guatemala.

So a lot of business and people are so friendly, encourage us to be here, encourage us to tell their story. There's no fear here that by us telling the story this is going to dry up this business because, like I said, this is the way it's been here for generations. Nothing has changed over the decades.

Michaela, John?

PEREIRA: Look, the Guatemalan people are wonderful people. I'm curious. You see all the rafts behind you. It seems like a busy port.

Is it always busy? Does it kind of go in surges? What are you seeing?

TUCHMAN: That's the thing. We arrived here yesterday, Michaela, and we were saying maybe there's a possibility we won't see any rafts. Maybe it'll be done in semi-secret.

We've been here now between yesterday and today for about 10 hours. There hasn't been one single moment where we haven't seen some rafts -- see these people are just leaving out now to the -- (speaking foreign language ].


TUCHMAN: Tu vas a Mexico? Estados Unidos tambien?

You see. These are people who are planning to go to the United States. They're not shy. They raise their hands, and they're starting their journey, a journey we have no idea if they'll be successful in pursuing.


PEREIRA: I think it's really important, and I cannot tell you, Gary, how much I appreciate you telling this aspect of the story.

These are people. These are people seeking a better life. This is a typical immigrant story. There's so much being made about the fact they're entering the States illegally, and that is absolutely the truth. This is not following the letter of the law.

But it's important to talk about the fact that these are humans.

BERMAN: It is. Although that picture is a stunning picture at the border, but the question, when you see Gary there is, what border?

PEREIRA: Yeah. There's no border.

BERMAN: What border? Wow. Back and forth, right in front of our very eyes.

Coming up, we're going to look at this from the angle back here in the United States. We're going to speak with a Texas mother who fosters some of these children who have crossed the border.

Hear why she does it, and how she is responding now to the criticism, and there is a lot of it.

PEREIRA: Also ahead @THISHOUR, President Obama says it's hard to get anything done in Washington.


OBAMA: If I sponsored a bill declaring apple pie American, it might fall victim to partisan politics. I get that.


BERMAN: Then a new photo of Bowe Bergdahl posing with a Taliban official, it surfaces on Twitter. Could this help us better understand what his captivity was like?

PEREIRA: And later on in the show, oops, an unedited version of Britney Spears, her song "Alien" has been leaked, critics ripping her apart.

Her people, though, say, look, it's out of context. It's just a warm- up. This is mean spirited to leak it out.

You be the judge. You will hear for yourself. Stick around.



OBAMA: I told them thank you, because it confirmed what I think we all know, which is the American people are an incredibly compassionate people and when you see a child in need, we want to care for them.


PEREIRA: President Obama there, speaking from Dallas about the ongoing border crisis. He thanked some of the faith-based groups that are helping build facilities for the thousands of immigrant children illegally entering the nation.

BERMAN: In many cases these children from Central America are escaping extreme poverty, gang violence, that is really in epidemic proportions in their countries. They have overwhelmed, though, the federal facilities here in the United States. Joining us is Veronica Chavarin from Catholic Charities of Ft. Worth.

She is a foster parent, one of many, who say they're willing to take on these children as foster kids. And Veronica, thank you so much for being with us today.


BERMAN: You have three children of your own and you foster two girls from Mexico in the past. Why did you decide to do this?

CHAVARIN: We wanted to give an opportunity and a home to some of these kids that are lacking these things in their countries.

PEREIRA: Now I understand you had a couple of girls that you have fostered. Where is the young lady you most recently fostered? How is she doing now?

CHAVARIN: She's doing really good. She has started school, she in college right now, she is pursuing accounting. And she's working and taking -- raising her daughter. She has a 2-year-old. She's doing really good.

PEREIRA: Can I ask what her immigration status is?

CHAVARIN: She is, right now, a resident alien.

BERMAN: What do you make of the political battle that is raging all around you as you are doing this? You're taking kids into your home. I am sure you're doing this out of the kindness of your heart, because you see kids in need. But there is a much larger discussion out there, and sometimes an angry discussion, there was a bus blocked in California that was trying to deliver some immigrants to a facility there. What do you make of it?

CHAVARIN: I understand the point of view of other people, that if these were not kids, these were criminals and people that wanted to take advantage of something we would have, then I would be there protesting along with them. But these are kids. These are kids that are trying to flee from abuse and from gangs and why not give them an opportunity? An opportunity to become citizens and to become productive citizens, working and providing for their own families too.

PEREIRA: You can understand the challenge here, because there are laws in our country, there are laws that exist about immigration, there is a call for immigration reform --


PEREIRA: -- currently going on right now, and a big debate that follows that. But I also understand that you have family members who work in border control, so you have kind of both sides of the equation. Do you understand the need to have laws and rules governing our border?

CHAVARIN: Yes. And I'm very thankful for those rules and those laws because they protect us. They protect our homes and our families here in the states. But what about the kids? What about their needs? Who is going to help them and who is going to protect them?

BERMAN: You have --

CHAVARIN: We go -- the United States government goes out to other countries and helps other countries. Why not help the kids that are our neighbors and our -- in our front yard.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the United States government right now. Do you think, from what you see, and you have such a unique perspective on what's happening at the border. Do you think the government is doing enough? Is handling this the right way? If you had a message for President Obama right now or Republican Governor Rick Perry, what would that message be?

CHAVARIN: I think they were not prepared for this crisis and I think they're doing to what they can with what they have. But I do think that they need to do something different and get these kids processed and making sure that if they can go back home, then send them back home. If they cannot, if they are in true need of protection, then give them an opportunity here in the states.

PEREIRA: Veronica, I know you are a mother with your own children and for you to take on other kids in need is a true testament to your very giving and loving nature. I'm sure that you have some critics. What would you say to critics who think you shouldn't be doing this?

CHAVARIN: I would tell them to open their hearts and not look at this as a political standpoint or anything. Look at the need. I did foster care here in the United States with kids that are here, so if I could do it for kids that are in my city and in my community, why not do it for other kids coming in and looking for a place to live and an opportunity to become a better person.

PEREIRA: I'm sure those children would thank you, and I'm sure you're setting a nice example for your kids too, who understand the compassion you have in your heart, not wanting to politicize this. Appreciate you joining us. Veronica Chavarin, thank you so much for joining us @THISHOUR.

CHAVARIN: Thank you for inviting me.

BERMAN: Takes a special kind of person to be a foster parent. Forget the politics of this. Foget the issue of immigration --

PEREIRA: I think foster parents are a very special breed, but this adds a whole other layer to it. In the Midst of such debate, and anger, and --

BERMAN: It has been almost a month since Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States. Still we know very little about his captivity. What this newly discovered photo can tell us.

PEREIRA: Then, he has been tracking violence in America ever since his own son was murdered. Now he's hunting down fugitives in a new show on CNN. Why John Walsh thinks America has a serious issue with guns. We will a explore that ahead @THISHOUR. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is almost done, now, with his reintegration. Officials say he is expected to be assigned to a new army unit very soon. But there are still so many unanswered questions about how he was captured and the time he was being held captive.

PEREIRA: For example, like this photograph showing a smiling Bergdahl with a now slain commander in the Haqqani Network. The photo was posted on a pro-Taliban Twitter account. We got to mention at CNN, we don't know the context or conditions of this picture, why he is smiling, what the relationship was, the circumstances surrounding this photo.

But let's bring in our Martin Savidge. Good to have you @THISHOUR, Martin, always a pleasure. Certainly not a lot of details about the circumstances of this picture. But let's talk about what we do know.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are a number of things, some of which you pointed out. The fact that is a photograph released by a pro-Taliban Twitter account, the best way to describe it. The man who is standing next to Bowe Bergdahl is a former Taliban leader. I say former because he was killed in a drone strike in august of 2012. But beyond that we don't know too much.

Of course many people may look at that and see Bowe Bergdahl is smiling. I would also point out that you're looking at a very thin Bowe Bergdahl, which may suggest something you cannot ascertain about how he was treated off camera, as it were. The military has said they have found nothing in their investigations that would suggest that as a captive Bowe Bergdahl did anything against his home country which, of course, is the United States. But there are a lot of people who are going to look at this and say, wait a minute, this looks suspicious, however the military would say, anything a person does in captivity you've got to question whether there was a gun somewhere or a threat made that you just don't see.

BERMAN: Anything you do, anything you say, anything you write, can always be coerced so at this point we have no idea. What's happening back at home now is the reintegration process, Martin. It's been over a month now since the Sergeant was released. Has he met with his parents yet?

SAVIDGE: That's the question we always ask and that is also considered to be the most sensitive question. It is believed that there has been contact and contact is the only word I have ever heard used by people on background when describe what kind of communication there may have been between Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and his family. We don't believe there has been direct face to face, however that said, the military said they've been asked by the family not to say anything when it comes to their relationship and the military is living up to that agreement. So we really don't know context as far as anyone will tell me on background.

PEREIRA: Martin Savidge, thanks for looking at all of this with us. It is always a pleasure and a delight to have you with us. SAVIDGE: Thank you Michaela.

PEREIRA: All right. We are going to take a short break here. Ahead, President Obama wants Republicans and Democrats to get along and to fix the problems at the border. Just one problem, though.


OBAMA: I'm getting sued right now, by Mr. Boehner apparently.

They have a plan to sue me. So sue me.


PEREIRA: Yes. So House Speaker John Boehner, who plans to sue the president, is expected to speak this hour. We'll bring you the live address if he addresses the president's remarks.