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Trump Falsely Claims Border Separations are Dems Fault; Lawmakers Tour Child Detention Centers; Interview with Representative Jeff Denham; Supreme Court Rules on Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired June 18, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:02] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. This morning, I'm Jim Sciutto.

There is growing outrage, finger pointing, there's blame shifting as well. All over the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy. But none of that can change the simple facts. Within the last two months, the Department of Homeland Security has instituted policy which it confirms has separated nearly 2,000 children from their parents as those families entered the United States.

After separation, those families are held in detention centers like this one here. That's right. Cages, chain link fences, mattresses on the floor. They're held there anywhere from a few days to more than a week. Some kids are kept in those centers, others are sent thousands of miles away from their families to foster homes around the country.

President Trump again this morning blamed Democrats saying that it is their policies that got us here. What he does not say is that he could stop this from happening this morning, today, if he wanted to. With a phone call, as Senator Lindsey Graham said. His administration is the one enforcing these rules, they are discretionary rules, it's one that his administration is enforcing.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now live from the White House.

Abby, I know you spoke just now to deputy -- the deputy press secretary there. How is the administration justifying its claim in the face of the facts this morning that this is not their policy, that this is somehow to be blamed on Democrats?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the administration is really all over the place on this. First, Kirstjen Nielsen, the DHS secretary, said there is no policy separating children from their parents at the border. And then President Trump himself in a tweet -- in two tweets just moments ago seemed to acknowledge that that policy existed but blamed it on Democrats. He said, "Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means of entering our country. Has anyone been looking at the crime taking place at the southern border? It is historic with some countries," I think he means counties there, "the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S."

And then he faults Democrats by saying they've been weak and ineffective with border security and crime, telling them to start thinking about the people devastated by crime coming from illegal immigration. He also called on them to change the laws. And just a few moments ago, as you just mentioned, we spoke to Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley and I pressured him about this issue, why not just make a phone call and change the laws.

Here's what he had to say.


PHILLIP: Other presidents have faced this challenge but they didn't decide to do it. President Trump has. Why doesn't he make a phone call and stop this practice today?


PHILLIP: It's not the law, Hogan. It's a practice that your administration has done.

GIDLEY: It absolutely the law of the land. There are only two things you can do in this particular situation. You can release the entire family unit or you can separate them. That's it. There is no third option of taking them together, keeping them together, and then sending them back to their home country. Because the law is that way --

PHILLIP: The Trump administration --


GIDLEY: Because --

PHILLIP: -- charge all border crossers with a crime.

GIDLEY: Because the law is that way.

PHILLIP: You don't have to do that. So why are you choosing to do that?

GIDLEY: Well -- right. That's best question you just asked. Ask the Democrats this question. We can't deport them, we can't separate them, we can't detain them, we can't prosecute them. What they want is a radical open border policy that lets everyone out in the interior of this country with virtually no documentation whatsoever.

PHILLIP: Does this administration --

GIDLEY: They -- that is absolutely true.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Hogan, you can say that the president has the authority to change the policy.

GIDLEY: Make them come to the table and fix this immediately.


PHILLIP: Well, the White House seems to be saying that they would prefer to separate children from their parents versus releasing immigrants into the country, but a lot of Republicans and Democrats are growing deeply uncomfortable with the White House seeming to use these children as a bargaining chip for the president to get more border security and his wall -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Abby Phillip there at the White House, also asking hard questions of the White House this morning.

This morning, there is, as Abby noted, bipartisan outrage as lawmakers from both parties tour those detention centers to assess the situation there firsthand.

CNN's Nick Valencia, he is at one of those centers in Brownsville, Texas. This one in a converted Walmart.

You know, Nick, a lot of competing claims about the situation there. You've been seeing it firsthand. Tell us what it's like to see the children there separated from their families and what kind of conditions do they face after that separation.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just standing here outside, Jim, the optics are mindboggling. Behind us, this was a former Walmart superstore. Now it is the largest facility for child migrants in the country. It has the capacity to hold about 1500 people, and according to our Bob Ortega who was in this facility just last week, the population inside, all of them boys ages 10 through 17, has surged by nearly 300 just in the last month.

We should remind our audience that traditionally during the summer months is the height of the traffic that we're seeing from these migrations from Central America through Mexico and the individuals that are arriving on the border. So far as I mentioned, that surge, 300 in the last month, 100 of those inside here are children that have been separated from their parents.

[10:05:03] The majority of those that are being held here are unaccompanied minors, those that showed up at the border already without their parents.

This was one of the last stops for Democratic lawmakers on their Father's Day tour, they called it a "Mission of Mercy" to try to highlight the injustices created, they say, by this zero tolerance policy implemented by the White House. This is a choice by the White House to separate children and their families. And after emerging, Senator Merkley who effectively -- Merkley from Oregon who effectively led this delegation of lawmakers, said the policy by the White House should not be called zero tolerance, it should be called zero humanity -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia there at one of those detention facilities.

Joining me now is Republican Representative Jeff Denham from California. Congressman, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.

REP. JEFF DENHAM (R), CALIFORNIA: You got it. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Congressman, you've heard the White House claims here. The trouble is it's been confusing to follow, right? Because you have multiple claims coming out. You have the DHS secretary claiming there is no family separation policy which flies in the facts of what we're witnessing there. You have Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions, John Kelly calling this a useful deterrent. You have the president and his spokespeople saying that this is the result of Democratic failure here.

What I which is it?

DENHAM: Well, I wouldn't blame this solely on Democrats. I think this is both parties' failure over several years. This is current law. The question is, should the president enforce current law? I believe we've got to change the law. And we've got a real opportunity to do that this next week and make sure that we're keeping families together.

SCIUTTO: It has been reported by the "Washington Post" and others, that what the president is doing here is in effect using this family separation as kind of a negotiating cudgel, right, to force Democrats into supporting his border wall. Is that in your view an acceptable negotiating tactic?

DENHAM: No. I think it's important that both parties come together on this issue. You know, the issue that we are so hotly debating right now are a lot of the very same issues that were in the 2013 Gang of Eight bill that every single Democrat in both Houses supported. Except that one had almost twice as much money for border wall, that one also ended a diversity lottery.

Now this issue was not addressed in that bill. It is more of a new issue because of a court decision in 2016. But we've got to resolve this issue as well.

SCIUTTO: Just on the facts there for a moment because of course there has been a long debate about a more comprehensive immigration bill here, but the fact is you could still have that debate, the president does not need to use his discretion to order these family separations. You grant that, right? I mean, the immigration negotiation can be separated from this -- what is a new policy in effect of separating these families, only begun really in mid-April.

DENHAM: Well, I mean, there is only a limited amount of options you can have at the border. You can turn people back, you can let them run freely and keep the family together, or you can have quick due process on the border. Adjudicating this issue immediately so that you don't have a long detention time in one of these centers. But you got it keep the family together.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough. So you say, because that's exactly how the White House is framing it. Basically they're saying you either release the whole family here, hard to keep track of them or you separate them. But you're saying it's not acceptable in your view to do what's happening right now today, which is to take those kids away from their parents, sometimes, you know, put them in these centers, but sometimes send them off to foster families for a longer period of time.

You're saying that that option in your view not an acceptable option of the many choices that the White House has or that the Hill has.

DENHAM: No. You got to keep them with their parents. At least one parent, the way that we're writing up is to make sure that at least one parent, in case it is a violent situation within a family. We need to make sure that the safety of the child is always there first and we want to make sure they're with their parents. So it's going to take a new law.

SCIUTTO: Is the president damaging your party by digging his heels in? I mean, just to see the stream of tweets this morning, he continues to blame this on the Democrats. It doesn't appear that he is backing off on this issue. Is that damaging for Republican lawmakers like yourself?

DENHAM: Well, not only is this current policy unacceptable, but the optics of pulling kids away from their parents is horrible for any party. So certainly, you know, we were already working on this issue. This is already a bill that's in print. It's coming up for a vote this week. So we have the ability to fix it this week.

SCIUTTO: As a practical matter, we are in, of course, a midterm year. What are we, four or five months away from those midterm elections? A lot of difficult races for Republicans and Democrats here.

[10:10:05] Do you see any realistic chance that Congress sits down, votes on and passes a comprehensive immigration reform before November?

DENHAM: I do. And I'm hopeful. You know, you obviously got to get it through a lot of the rhetoric on this emotional issue. Again Democrats supported many of these same policies, every Democrat in both Houses, unanimously supported many of these same issues three years ago. So just because there is somebody else in the White House shouldn't matter this is an issue that we've got to fix.

And it's been decades so both parties have punted on this. Multiple administrations. And now because of this rule that I introduced and this discharge petition, we're actually having a debate. So, yes, this issue with keeping families together is a newer issue. But it is certainly one that's got to be considered --

SCIUTTO: Congressman, we're going to have to leave it there. Sorry, we see the DHS secretary commenting on this right now, Kirstjen Nielsen, in New Orleans.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Let's be honest. There are some who would like us to look the other way when dealing with families at the border and not enforce the law passed by Congress, including unfortunately some members of Congress. Past administrations may have done so but we will not.

We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are in fact a family. We have to do our job, we will not apologize for doing our job. We have sworn to do this job.

This administration has a simple message, if you cross the border illegally, we will prosecute you. If you make a false immigration claim, we will prosecute you. If you smuggle illegal aliens across an extraordinarily dangerous journey, we will prosecute you.

But I have also made clear you do not need to break the law of this country by entering illegally to claim asylum. If you are seeking asylum, go to a port of entry. For months, staff at CPB, ICE and USCIS and I have been on the Hill briefing members about the threat posed by these loopholes, and discussing ways to close them and to fix our broken immigration system.

So let me take just a couple of minutes to walk you through a few of these legal loopholes that DHS and you and your communities must confront every day and the solutions that we have requested from Congress.

First, under existing law, certain unaccompanied alien children from Mexico and Canada who enter illegally and have no valid claim to stay can be quickly returned home, but unaccompanied children from every other country in the world must be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours and then released to parents or guardians within the United States.

This is a significant pull factor that encourages these children to make the dangerous journey north. And it also belies the fairness of the system. We should be treating those from countries the same. Why is our system built on treating people from Mexico and Canada different than any other country coming to the United States for various reasons?

Additionally, when a child is apprehended with their parents, DHS is required due to various court rulings to release the child within 20 days. As I mentioned earlier, this get-out-of-jail-free card for families and group who pose as families has spread. The word of this has spread. The smugglers and traffickers know these loopholes better than our members of Congress.

I'm sad to say that from October 2017 to this February, we have seen a staggering 315 percent increase in illegal aliens, fraudulently using children to pose as family units to gain entry into this country. This must stop. All this does is put the children at risk.

To address these issues, we've asked Congress to change the law to allow for the expeditious return of unaccompanied alien children regardless of their country of origin. We are also asking Congress to allow us to keep families together while they are detained. These fixes would go a long way toward discouraging families from sending children on the harrowing journey to the U.S., resulting in fewer children in the hands of gangs such as MS-13 and more adults facing the consequences of their actions.

Second, our system for asylum is broken. We are a compassionate country that has taken in millions of refugees and granted asylum to hundreds of thousands over the last few decades or assisted them near their home countries. Since 1975, the United States has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world and each year typically admits nearly two-thirds of the world's settled refugees.

[10:15:07] That is more than all other countries combined. So unfortunately because we have an incredibly low standard for claiming credible fear as part of the asylum process, our generosity is being abused. As a result, over the last seven years we have seen the number of individuals claiming asylum skyrocket. Before 2011, approximately 1 out of every 100 people arriving illegally claimed credible fear and sought asylum in the United States.

Today that number is 1 out of every 10. The result of such a low threshold for initial credible fear screening is an asylum backlog of 600,000 cases. These applicants sit in limbo for years, waiting for resolution. After passing the unnecessarily low standard of initial screening, applicants can live and work in the United States for years.

This is true even for the 80 percent who are ultimately rejected for asylum at their final adjudication after multiple appeals. For the 20 percent who truly need asylum, they are mired in the years' long backlog and remain in limbo. To address this issue, we've asked Congress to adjust the standard of proof to prevent well-coached applicants from uttering the magic words indicating a fear of returning home.

This change would ensure that those who deserve asylum find it quickly so that they can begin their new lives in our country. Finally, as you well know, many communities have adopted sanctuary policies that protect criminal aliens from federal law enforcement. I don't need to tell you more about this.

But instead of turning their criminals over that are in their custody to ICE to face immigration proceedings consistent with our law, these communities shelter them and release the criminals back on to our streets. They often refuse to simply cooperate with us as we attempt to enforce the law. To address these issues, and as Congressman Scalise mentioned, we are asking Congress to fully authorize ICE detainers and importantly to provide indemnification for jurisdictions who willfully comply.


NIELSEN: Removing criminal aliens in controlled environments such as jails protects the men and women of ICE, your men and women within your facilities, as well as the local communities who otherwise are put at the mercy of those being released into the communities.

I would encourage you all to reach out to members, ensure your voices are heard. It is important that you also have the ability and the authority to protect your communities and to work with federal law enforcement. In the meantime, as ICE, state and local law enforcement partners are increasingly challenged in court for facilitating the secure and orderly custodial transfer of criminal aliens to ICE, NSA has been a strong partner in working with us to address this public safety issue.

For example, as many of you know, NSA and the Major County Sheriffs of America worked with us at ICE to develop a new process to clarify that aliens held by these jurisdictions are held under the --

SCIUTTO: We've been listening there to Kirstjen Nielsen. She is the Homeland Security secretary. A few headlines. It appears that she, representing an administration that's doubling down on the family separation policy, she calls the previous asylum policy in her words a significant pull factor for immigrant families coming into the country. She claims that there's been a 315 percent increase in illegal aliens fraudulently using children to enter the country under false pretenses.

We're still joined now by California congressman, Republican Jeff Denham.

Congressman Denham, you were listening to Kirstjen Nielsen there. Did you sense the administration digging its heels in on this family separation policy?

DENHAM: Digging its heels in, certainly pushing Congress to get its job done. I mean, I continue to encourage members of both parties, go to the border, go to these detention centers. This is nothing new for me. I've been to a lot of them. But I want to see more members go there so that we can actually fix this. It's an emotional issue. But neither party should want to separate kids from their parents and we actually have the ability to fix that this week with a bill that's going to be on the floor.

SCIUTTO: Now as you listen to her there, she described, you know, the asylum policy, again her phrasing, as something of a get-out-of-jail- free card. I mean, do you think she was giving a fair representation of what the policy is at the border and how immigrant or potential immigrant families, illegal ones included, take that as a message, take it as sort of a welcoming message that could be easily exploited?

[10:20:08] DENHAM: Yes, I've been to the borders several times, seen both asylum seekers coming across the border with a card that they read or they just hand over, requesting safe entry into the United States. When that happens with kids, though, we've got to make sure that the kids are staying with their parents or when they're released into the United States, or whether they are going back to their home country, they have to go back with their parent.

So we've got to do a better job of keeping kids with their parents. But obviously this system is broken. It's not -- nothing new. The only thing that's new this month is it's the summertime and once again you're seeing a large groups of people coming dangerously across the southern border as well as through the points of entry. So we've got to fix this. And thankfully we actually have the ability to do that this week. SCIUTTO: Congressman Jeff Denham, thanks for taking the question,

Republican congressman, I know a lot did not take the opportunity to talk about this difficult issue, so we appreciate you doing that.

DENHAM: You got it. Thanks for having me again.

SCIUTTO: We are following breaking news now. Just out of the Supreme Court, a major ruling.

Joining me now, we have Jessica Schneider who is up there at the court.

Jessica, tell us what you're learning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this ruling that has just come out from the Supreme Court, it all talks about partisan gerrymandering. We are reading over the opinion right now, looking to get a read on this. But you'll remember this has been a big issue throughout the country. Certain parties gaining control of their legislature and then redrawing congressional lines to benefit their political party.

This is a case that comes out of Wisconsin. And it was in 2011 that Republicans for the first time in 40 years they took control of the state legislature and they redrew some of the congressional lines. And after that, after a few of the elections there, challengers took issue with the way those congressional lines were drawn saying that they just weren't fair. To give you -- to really encapsulate as to why they said this wasn't fair, let me give you a quick statistic.

During -- one of the elections during that year, Democrats won a majority of votes in the state, Republicans only won about 48.6 percent of the state. However, in the state legislature, Republicans won 60 seats, Democrats only 39. So they took those numbers and they went to court saying, look, these lines can't be fair. Republicans didn't get a majority of the state, yet they have much more than a majority of seats in the legislature. So they took this issue to court.

The lower courts ruled in their favor. They said, yes, this is partisan gerrymandering and we're going to institute a standard and a test as to how to determine whether or not there is partisan gerrymandering. So this issue came before the court. And the big question here has been will the Supreme Court issue a standard and a test to determine whether or not, and when there has been partisan gerrymandering.

So, Jim, we're reading through this opinion now. We're waiting to get a read on what the Supreme Court has said here. Obviously the midterm elections just a few months away, any decision here would not affect the maps in place for the midterm elections but this would have big and far-reaching consequences for elections to come. Of course, 2020 a big presidential election year.

So we're standing by, we're waiting to hear what the Supreme Court has ruled on this. This could be a big moment for this court or if the court could simply sidestep this issue. So we're waiting to find out.

Jim., we'll read over the case and get back with you guys in just a few minutes.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider on the Hill there.

I'm joined now here as well by CNN political director David Chalian.

David Chalian, again, you know, these cases are difficult to read early on. We can remember, of course, the Obamacare ruling. It's difficult to -- you know, there is no sort of executive summary here. But just for the significance of this, this was a case brought in the state of Wisconsin, "Gill v. Whitford," by Democrats challenging the Republican-controlled legislature's gerrymandering plan. Of course at the same time you have Republicans calling a Democratic plan to the Supreme Court in Maryland. So you've got a competing cases going on here.


SCIUTTO: But what's at stake politically?

CHALIAN: And these were state legislative lines in Wisconsin, though, initially.

SCIUTTO: Right. Exactly.

CHALIAN: But, yes, the larger concept here, Jim, is what we're all waiting to see if the Supreme Court actually came down one way or the other in this case because there have been other kinds of gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering, that have been unconstitutional at times, that have been ruled out of bounds, you can't draw districts this way.

Political gerrymandering, which is what takes place when you have political operatives, political legislators, partisans sitting down as members of the state legislature, to draw the districts in favor of one party or the other. That's --


SCIUTTO: Which they have a political right to do. The question is, if you carry that too far, right, where it becomes --

CHALIAN: Exactly. Can you do this in such a way that it actually does go around and subvert the Constitution in the way that this was designed to be.


[10:25:05] CHALIAN: We will see if the Supreme Court wants to weigh in. This has been a tricky issue for the Supreme Court, which has never found a remedy for this problem yet, which is something they've indicated they're on the search for. So we'll see if this is the case they choose to dug in. SCIUTTO: And of course an option for the court is always to legally

punt on this issue. An option that it has taken sometime on difficult cases like this.

We have Gloria Browne Whitford (sic), she's joining us as well now. As you're reading through this -- so we don't have her right now. And again, just -- OK, she's back. Just so you know at home why this is happening, this is the decision here. It is thick, it is difficult to get through. Before we make a conclusion about it, we want to get it right.

So, Gloria, as you're reading this, did you have a sense of where the court has come down on this or have they decided to delay this to another day?

GLORIA BROWNE-MARSHALL, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: Well, it is a thick opinion. This is a complex issue. And political gerrymandering I think is very important for us to understand as was pointed out. Racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional. The court has been dreading when it comes to this idea of delving into politics.

It is almost as though a winner takes all, if a political party gains control, then it's thought that they will have the power to make these decisions as far as redistricting goes. However, the problem is you have these Democratic voters saying, my votes had have been wasted. Why should I even go to the polls?

This is the concern of the U.S. Supreme Court. They do not want any citizen who has a right to vote to believe that their vote does not count simply because another group is in power. That is what's going to draw them in. And as was pointed out, the Maryland case is speaking on the issue from the Democratic side and they had control and they redistricted and the Republicans challenged.

I think it's going to be very difficult as we look to this opinion to decide if the Supreme Court is going to make an overly broad decision. I think it's going to be very narrow. They can't afford to delve into politics too deeply without looking as though they're a political engine themselves.

SCIUTTO: And it should be noted we're only five months away from a key midterm election here. And again, as you're watching at home, a team here at CNN is going through this decision, they are difficult to interpret often early on so before we come to you with exactly what the gist of it is, we want to get it right.

I'm joined now by Michael Moore as well. He knows very much the significance of this decision.

What should we be looking for here from this court? Again I should note to our viewers, this doesn't have to be a hard yes or no, it very easily could be a punt as it were saying, we're not going to decide on this issue right now.

But, Michael, tell us what we should be looking for here. MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: You

know, the decision is long and complex, but a quick read of it tells me that they are punting a little bit. The decision -- the opinion is written by the chief justice and joined by members of what I would call the more liberal-leaning side of the court as well, which makes it interesting. But essentially what the court has said is that these plaintiffs did not prove that they had standing an individualized harm to bring the case.

And that they looked at the decision of the lower court and are now saying -- the Supreme Court saying let's send it back down there, we're not going to dismiss the case, which is often done. But we're going to remand it back to the lower court to let the plaintiffs develop more evidence to show that they have had this individual and particularized harm to make a proper point to bring the case.

You know, it's premised on the idea that voting is an individual right and the damages would need to be such, the harm would need to be such to show that these plaintiffs have suffered that and there is some discussion in that opinion about, was this a state wide harm, was it just a district harm, because the plaintiffs were part of a particular district as opposed to a broader group of people.

So I always am loathe to say that the Supreme Court is punting. But that really looks like what's happened at this point and they're waiting for more evidence to be developed to be brought back in as they try to address the case. There is no question and the court is clear about this, that gerrymandering needs to be addressed. And it is a problem that goes back and forth. So hopefully this will move forward.

SCIUTTO: OK. So -- and that's key. And I'm not going to hold you to this because I know you're going to want to read it again but you're a former U.S. attorney, it's your initial read that maybe punt is too strong a word, but when you say that the court says the plaintiffs don't have standing. The plaintiffs in this case were Democrats in the state of Wisconsin challenging a state legislative map here, but to say they don't have standing, you're saying, Michael Moore, if they don't have -- if the court rules they don't have standing in effect says that they haven't found evidence of a wrong here based on this legislation? Is that right?

MOORE: Not really. The standing issue says that you have to have some proof when you bring a case in federal court of showing that you have individual and particularized harm. And the court is giving them time to address that.

SCIUTTO: Understood. OK. Michael Moore, we appreciate it. Again it is early here as we read --


SCIUTTO: As we read through this long statement.

We do have our Jessica Schneider, she is up at the Supreme Court. She has been --