Return to Transcripts main page
Outrage Grows Over U.S. Separating Immigrant Families. Aired 6- 6:30a ET
Aired June 18, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: To hurt children to get leverage on legislation is evil.
[05:59:29] STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: It's zero-tolerance. I don't think you have to justify it.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to say it's un-American. But it's happening right now in America, and it is on all of us.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, June 18, 6 a.m. here in New York. This is our starting line.
The White House chose this. Five words you have to remember as we learn some 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border. The White House chose this.
The administration's decision to enact what it calls "a zero-tolerance policy" on undocumented immigrants crossing the border has led to these children, many younger than 4 years old, being taken from their parents and held in structures that some say look like cages. The White House chose this.
Now former first lady Laura Bush says it's cruel and immoral. Current first lady Melania Trump says she hates seeing families separated, but she appears to echo President Trump's ruse that politics is to blame. The president has lied about this, calling it a Democratic policy. It is not. You can argue the merits of the policy if you want, which the attorney general, chief of staff and former chief strategist have all done. But you cannot argue what caused it to happen. The White House chose this.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So over the weekend Democratic lawmakers toured these detention centers, and they say that they are floored by what they saw there. The Department of Homeland Security insists they do not have a policy separating families, but that makes no sense, since as John said, nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents in the past several weeks.
The president could stop this today.
And onto the Russia investigation. Former Trump campaign associate Roger Stone admits meeting with a Russian operative, offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, in exchange for $2 million back in 2016. Why is this just coming out? We'll get to that.
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House. What's the latest there, Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
There is growing outrage this morning about the president's policy of zero-tolerance at the border that has caused about 2,000 immigrant children to be separated from their families.
Now, this policy is one that senior White House and administration figures have touted over the last several weeks. But the president himself seems to be trying to distance himself from this policy by blaming Democrats.
But that is not going over well with everyone, including former first lady Laura Bush, who issued an op-ed over the weekend, sharply criticizing this policy and comparing it to Japanese internment camp. Bush wrote, "I live at a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero- tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart."
Now former first lady Laura Bush is not the only one weighing in here. This controversy has also prompted Melania Trump to defend her policy of supporting families, even while her husband's administration is pursuing this policy. Melania Trump issued what is an extraordinary statement of her own, in some ways distancing herself from the policy, but in other ways, echoing her husband's language about it. She wrote -- or her, in the statement wrote, "Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs with heart."
Now, the president himself has not been willing to take ownership over this policy. Over the weekend, he accused the policy of belonging to Democrats. He also implied that it would be used as a negotiating tool in these ongoing talks about border security.
Two tweets over the weekend. The president blames Democrats for the policy of separating families that his administration put in place. He also implied that if Democrats want to change it -- if Democrats don't change it, they will lose in November.
Meanwhile, the president is expected tomorrow to meet with House Republicans over this issue of immigration. Republicans are trying to push through a couple of compromise immigration bills. And the president has not exactly helped in that process. But Republican leaders are hoping that tomorrow he'll be before him and will explain his position on the bills.
But in the meantime, I think this fervor over this policy is only going to continue to grow. It would not surprise me at all if tomorrow Republicans are seeking more answers from the president himself about how this administration is going to deal with the growing controversy and fervor over this practice -- John.
BERMAN: I think you're right. No question. They're already asking for answers, Abby. And the White House chose this. Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.
As Abby mentioned, there is growing bipartisan outrage over what's happening. Several lawmakers have been touring the South Texas facilities where children are kept after being separated from their parents at the border.
Our Nick Valencia at one of those facilities in Brownsville, Texas. A former Wal-Mart, Nick, now holding nearly 1,500 children.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
This was one of the last stops for Democratic lawmakers as they toured processing centers along U.S.-Mexico border on Father's Day. They called it their mission of mercy tour. And they said the intention was to highlight the injustices created, what they say, by this zero- tolerance immigration policy put forward by the Trump administration.
[06:05:00] Senator Merkley of Oregon was the one who led this delegation. And after touring these facilities, he said it shouldn't be called "zero-tolerance." It should be called "zero humanity."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERKLEY: The president has also argued in the last few days that this policy gives him political leverage with legislation. Hurting kids to get legislative leverage is unacceptable. It is evil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VALENCIA: Here in Brownsville Brownsville, this facility behind me, which used to be a former Wal-Mart, is the largest for immigrant children in the country; has the capacity to hold about 1,500 boys between the ages of 10 through 17. Most of those that are here right now were unaccompanied minors, those that showed up at the border without their parents.
But as this "zero-tolerance" policy has taken hold, more and more of the children showing up here are children that were separated from their families.
Now, yesterday we saw 2,000 miles away from here in New Jersey Democratic lawmakers trying to gain access to a federal detention facility. A dramatic scene as they were surrounded by the press corps. Initially they were denied entry; eventually, allowed inside. They say they're sending a message to the Trump administration that they are going to continue to put on the pressure for this policy that they call not only unjust but un-American -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Nick. Thank you very much for all of that reporting.
Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen took to Twitter to defend the Trump administration policy, saying, quote, "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border, period."
But the truth debunks that, as we see in video and photos and with our own eyes.
So CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in McAllen, Texas, where she was granted inside access to a detention facility there.
So you have seen it with your own eyes, Dianne. What have you seen?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, look, this is a facility where they're actually still with their families. It's once they leave this facility. It's a centralized processing center.
The Rio Grande Valley sector has more apprehensions on the southern border than any other sector. More children have been separated from their families leaving this facility than any other in the country.
I got a chance to go inside. It was a very heavily controlled tour guide from Customs and Border Patrol agents. We're probably seeing on screen right now some photographs from inside this processing center that were given to us by CBP. They wouldn't let us bring phones. They wouldn't let us bring cameras or recording devices inside. Instead, they supplied these photos afterward.
But you can see, these roughly 12-foot-tall fences. It reminded me, honestly, of going into an animal shelter the way it was set up in a warehouse. And on one side in one room, you had adult women who were in these pens. In the other side in another room, you had adult -- in that same room, you had adult men.
And then you go into a large area. And when I came in there, you could see the unaccompanied minors. These were young teenaged boys in one pen. In another unaccompanied minor pen, you had small children. We saw kids who appeared to be about 4 or 5 years old in that pen.
In the others, you had fathers who came with children. We saw fathers holding infants, Alisyn, standing there in a virtual processing area, trying to get their status pushed forward to figure out what was next for them.
And then I saw the mothers with those children. There were pregnant women inside, as well. Now again, we're talking these concrete floors. There are these small blue, thin mattress pads.
And I saw kids walking around with water bottles, and apples and snacks. For the most part, I didn't really hear anybody speaking. It was eerily silent in there. A lot of just blank stares and stoic faces.
I did talk to one boy. He was from Guatemala. He didn't say how old he was, but he appeared to be about between 12 to 15 years old. He smiled. He said he came by himself, and he was happy to be inside instead of outside. He said that he felt very good.
But when I went to the pen that was holding the mothers and the children, a woman came up to the fenced area. She kind of put her hands into it there and said she had a 1-year-old daughter with her. She came from Guatemala. She started crying. She got separated from the group that she came with. She didn't know what was going to happen. She didn't know about the zero-tolerance policy. And she did appear to be frightened.
There was very limited interaction, to be honest. We had to ask Customs and Border Patrol if we could speak with people. They did give us a handout that they had been giving these families, to let them know what happens now. It was in English and in Spanish, and basically tells them there are phone numbers you can call; there are people you can contact about finding out where your children are.
We assumed that the reunification instructions happened during those phone calls. But they're not actually on the document itself.
But within that facility, Alisyn, going and walking through there, I was just so struck by the lack of sound. There were small children in there. And they weren't really doing anything. They were just sitting there. They were well-clothed. But they, again, it was interesting to see.
[06:10:06] Now Customs and Border Patrol, John and Alisyn, pointed out to me that this has been what this facility has looked like for years now. They have more paperwork and they're a little more strained trying to get it done, because of zero tolerance, but how it looks in there hasn't changed for years.
BERMAN: No. The difference, though, is that this now includes children who have been separated from their parents. Not just unaccompanied minors crossing the border. This is children who have been separated from their parents. And Dianne, based on what you saw, any sense of, you know, how long that those children will be there?
GALLAGHER: So here's the thing. Inside this particular facility, they're supposed to only be in here for about 72 hours. Some of the people that I did speak to said they'd been here for four or five days. But this is a processing center. From here, they go to different facilities.
And what Nick was just showing you, that center where the young boys were being put, that's where some of these kids would go from here.
The thing is, is that since they're going to court, these parents, because they're all being charged, they're going to federal court, they could get time served and then be reunited with their children in a couple of hours, or a couple of days. Or they could spend up to six months in jail for a misdemeanor or even longer if it's a re-entry felony.
And so the question is, at this point, because it's so new, we don't know when all of these reunifications will happen or if they will happen. And the parents seemed like they also were unsure as to how to get back with their children afterward.
CAMEROTA: That part is really scary. Dianne, thank you so much. It's so helpful to have you on the ground and be able to report from the first-person view. Thank you.
BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, CNN contributor Wes Lowery; CNN political analyst Brian Karem.
Gentlemen, what we have here, you know, is a crisis in morality. A crisis in policy. Everyone agrees on that. And frankly, a crisis in honesty. The White House not owning what it has chosen to do.
It's now Monday morning in the East Coast. Brian, what happens over the next several hours?
BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, good question. We've had four different stories that I've heard as to what's happened. I mean, if you listen to Donald Trump, it's the Democrats' fault. If you listen to Nielsen, we don't do it. If you listen to Sessions, it's God's will. And if you listen to Stephen Miller, it's a matter of policy. It would be nice if the White House would at least be honest about it.
But the real issue that they're going to have to deal with is the stated reason as to why they're doing this, as a deterrence. And I can tell you from covering this issues for 30-some-odd years, I wish I had an hour just to show you what I've seen.
But if you go down and see the living conditions that these people come from. And I mean, we're talking about people who live around -- they live in hammered-flat tin can shacks next to, you know, cesspools or open cesspools, where they bathe, urinate, defecate and brush their teeth. They have nothing.
And then to make that trek, they sometimes will pay smugglers or coyotes to get them to the United States. And those coyotes will prey upon them and rob them and beat them. There have been instances of -- and I've covered many of them where illegal immigrants are stacked like cord wood in a five-by-eight U-Haul and suffocated or asphyxiated.
Then to get to the shining citadel on the Hill, which is supposed to be the United States, and the last vestige of your humanity is ripped from you as they take your children. That's a very shocking, very horrible thing to go through.
And if you think, and with all that said, those facilities where those children are, are still better living conditions than they came from. So if you think that, in any way, this will act as a deterrent, you're ignorant of the facts. And that's the -- that's the saddest thing that this administration is
going to have to face in the coming days. It will be interesting to see what the vote will be on the Hill tomorrow.
CAMEROTA: So Wes, Laura Bush has written an op-ed about this. And what's interesting about Laura Bush is that it -- OK, so this is not a Democratic policy. This was not instituted under a Democrat. It was started under George W. Bush.
But they quickly figured out that yes, you can refer all of the people who cross in unlawfully for criminal prosecution. That was the "zero- tolerance" policy during the Bush administration. But they quickly figured out, "We're not going to separate kids from their parents. That's inhumane."
KAREM: It's inhumane.
CAMEROTA: So the Bush administration didn't do it. The Obama administration didn't do it. And the Trump administration -- I mean, Stephen Miller admits that they came up with this.
CAMEROTA: That they concocted this policy.
But here's Laura Bush: "I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries. But this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart."
So I mean, look, obviously, Donald Trump isn't comfortable with what he's come up with, since he keeps -- you know, he likes to generally take credit.
WES LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He changes his story.
CAMEROTA: And since he's not taking credit and he keeps trying to cast about for blame. They can't be comfortable either.
LOWERY: No. Certainly not. When you look at this historically throughout American history, no matter the policy you're talking about, the separation of families has always been something that speaks to a level of inhumanity.
[06:15:05] You go back to slavery, and this was something the abolitionists were arguing for. And one of the reasons, eventually, that public opinion shifted was that one of the reasons this cannot be just is that we can't justify splitting these families up in all of these different ways.
And so when you look at our immigration policy and other groups of immigrants previously, as we've grappled with centuries of immigration policy, the division and the splitting up of families has always been be a line that the public has not been comfortable with, no matter how potentially demagogued or stereotyped the group of immigrants may have been. And so what we're seeing here is an administration's attempting to
have this a few different ways. Right? You have the president himself saying this is the Democrats' policy. Now, again, obviously that's not true. Right?
LOWERY: But he's saying, the Democrats' policy; they want to do this. It's their fault. They should fix it. Again, the president is the president. His party runs all of Congress.
But you also have his closest advisers and folks in the administration who have for months been saying that this is a policy of deterrence. The thing about deterrence is, when something is a deterrent, it means you're doing it deliberately to prevent people from a certain type of behavior. You can't call something a deterrent and, on the other hand say, "Well, we don't really want to be doing it." You know, it's one -- it's got to be one thing or the other.
KAREM: It's a great point.
BERMAN: Absolutely. And again, you have Stephen Miller owning this. Sessions owning this. You have John Kelly owning this. Steve Bannon, who's not with the administration any more, owns this. They all admit why they are doing it. And you can have the argument on the merits if you want. Have that argument. You can't deny that the White House chose to do this. It is interesting --
KAREM: It's a lie.
BERMAN: It's a lie.
KAREM: And there is no other way around this simple fact. The president of the United States lies to us. And on this particular policy, he has repeatedly lied to us while those underneath him have actually, in some instances, told us the truth.
But it's not going to get better until they at least admit what is is that they're doing. And what I don't understand is why he doesn't own this, to some extent, because he campaigned on the issue.
BERMAN: Well, he doesn't want -- I can tell you why he doesn't own it. I mean, it's one thing for Miller and Sessions. He doesn't like the pictures of the kids in the cages. He doesn't want those connected to him.
BERMAN: And he has a hard time justifying that, maybe to his daughter, maybe to his friends who he calls on the phone sometimes. He doesn't want to be connected to it, even though it's an administration policy.
You have his wife now, the first lady, Melania Trump. And I think we might as well put up what she said one more time: "Mrs. Trump" -- this a statement from her office. "Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows the laws but also governs with heart."
Wes, how are we supposed to look at that statement? Are we supposed to look at this, Wes, as Melania Trump thinks -- is so concerned that she is now weighing in, rebutting the White House policy? Or is this Melania Trump trying to give the "both sides are to blame" argument here that to some extent the president is doing, too?
KAREM: That's a good question.
BERMAN: I'm sorry. Wes.
LOWERY: Sorry. To me it does seem like a -- them attempting to have it a little bit of both ways. Right? I think Melania, the first lady, clearly want -- also wanting to distance herself, as any reasonable person would, from photos of children put in cages and ripped from their -- from their parents at the border. I mean, it just seems, as Laura Bush said in her statement, inhumane and immoral. And so you can imagine why the first lady would want to separate herself from that.
But that said, you know, I think sometimes there's a tendency almost to give her too much credit. It's, on one hand, extremely rare for a first lady to put out a policy statement like this that could be seen as contradicting her president -- her husband's policy.
On the other hand, there is this kind of "both sides are to blame." And that's kind of hard. I mean, for an honest human being to say that the pro-"Put the kids in cages" side and the "Hey, kids shouldn't be in cages" side are somehow equal on this issue or morality and policy and ethics, that's a little difficult of a pill to swallow.
And again, it can't be stated enough times. The president is the president.
LOWERY: And this is a policy that, with one phone call, he could stop. And by the way, this is something that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan could put up for a vote to have a policy banning this, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Republican --
KAREM: They can't get the votes.
LOWERY: -- run the entire country. They could change this if they wanted to.
KAREM: And they can't get the votes.
CAMEROTA: Yes, there's no law. But hold on. Just to be clear, just so everybody know: there is no law that you have to separate children from their parents. BERMAN: No.
CAMEROTA: There's no law. This is a policy that they've concocted and decided to come up with. Stephen Miller quite proudly. I mean, he said -- here's his quote, "It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry, period."
KAREM: You're absolutely right, Alisyn. You can choose to take the immigration issue as a civil or a criminal issue. They've decided to do it as a criminal issue.
The one vestige of truth I will give this administration on that, is that this is not a problem that was created by Donald Trump.
KAREM: This is an ongoing problem. It is how the president -- this current administration has chosen to deal with this problem. That's the issue.
[06:20:06] CAMEROTA: Yes, and I want to talk about that, Brian, because -- just for one second --
CAMEROTA: -- because the other ways of dealing with it haven't worked. OK?
CAMEROTA: So President Trump, as you know, breaks the mold and tries to come in and do something different.
And so, you know, I think on the flip side, we need to just talk about how there are hundreds of people crossing the border illegally every day. And obviously, they're motivated because of whatever horrors they're facing in their home country. But if Democrats don't want the border -- a border wall, and Democrats don't want anything punitive for deterrence, you know, where are we? I mean, this is what has bedeviled people for decades.
KAREM: Well, that's a great question, but here's the answer that they don't want to face.
The problems that create this illegal immigration are part and parcel the problems that we have created through our government and through our economic system. Why aren't we going after the businesses that recruit them? Why haven't we bolstered infrastructure? Why haven't we assisted our neighbors?
Remember the old Monroe Doctrine: We'll take care of the Western Hemisphere. Well, we haven't done that. And we treat those people, we dehumanize them and we treat them as second-class citizens and encourage the cheap labor to fuel our economy. We have not dealt with that problem. And Congress has never wanted to deal with that problem, nor has any president wanted to deal with that problem.
We create the problem that we are now trying to deal with, and we've never faced that squarely. And until we do, we won't end the problem
BERMAN: Brian Karem, Wes Lowery, great to have you here with us. We're going to press lawmakers on this. What are they going to do about this going forward?
Coming up, we're going to speak with senators Jeff Merkley and Chris Van Hollen. They toured the facility holding the children in Texas. We'll ask them what they saw and, really importantly, what they're going to do.
We're also going to speak with Republican Congressman Will Hurd, who represents a district on the Texas-Mexico border. He has been critical of the administration. He says that President Trump, he could change this immediately.
CAMEROTA: Well, he compared President Trump's immigration policies to that of Nazi Germany. Now that man, former CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden, will join us live to tell us why he said that.
BERMAN: All right. The outrage is growing over the Trump administration's practice of separating thousands of children from their parents at the border. The White House chose this. Criticism is coming from both sides of the aisle, including from former CIA and NSA director General Michael Hayden.
[06:25:01] He tweeted this black and white photograph of Auschwitz- Birkenau, writing, "Other governments have separated mothers and children."
Let me tell you something. This tweet caused a lot of debate. Joining us now is the man behind it, CNN national security analyst, retired general Michael Hayden.
General, thank you very much for being with us.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thank you.
BERMAN: You weren't born yesterday. You knew how controversial this tweet would be. Let's put it back up again, so people can see it. Why did you decide to send that out?
HAYDEN: Yes. I guess I wanted to grab's people's attention, John. Because as I reflected on this Saturday afternoon, this seemed to be a very important matter to my mind.
I didn't choose that picture at random. I've been to that camp, actually, several times, John. I walked down that railroad siding, where the families were separated. And that's why I used that picture. That's the scene where families were separated.
Now, look, I know we're not Nazi Germany, all right But there is a commonality there and a fear on my part that we have standards we have to live up to.
You know, John, if you walk down that track, you go through the portal, and you open up onto acres and acres where the barracks used to be. And you can still see the footings of the barracks and, beyond that, the crematoria. And then you look at the sky, and it's blue, and the trees are green, and the dirt's brown. I mean, this really happened. And although that's in Poland now, it was in Germany during the war.
I've lived in Germany for three years. A more civilized people you cannot find.
BERMAN: But General --
HAYDEN: And so I was trying to point out we need be careful not to move in that direction.
BERMAN: The comparison, though, is one that critics latch onto. And they will note, among other things, that the Jews who walked through that door did not choose to walk through that door at Birkenau. The families going to the border, the parents are choosing to go there. The parents crossing the border have committed a crime, whether it be a misdemeanor or a felony. You can argue they committed a crime. The people who walked through that gate at Auschwitz-Birkenau, they had committed no crime.
Also, the people who walked through that gate, they were killed. The people crossing the border here, that is not what's happening.
And then there's people who say leave the Holocaust out of this. Just leave it out of it completely. Any discussion of comparing that to anything else is inept.
HAYDEN: So that's a picture from 1943-1944, John. Let's run the clock back to 1933, which is really what I was trying to address, all right?
And in 1933, what did we see in Germany? A cult of personality, a cult of nationalism, a cult of grievance. A press operation that looked like, and was, the Ministry of Propaganda. And then the punishing of marginalized groups.
John, I'm not saying our needle was anywhere near the red. I'm not claiming that at all. But I am claiming our needle is moving, and it's not moving in the right direction. And if I overachieve by comparing it to Birkenau, I apologize to anyone who may have -- may have felt offended.
But John, I've repeated -- you and I have shared this before. The veneer of civilization is quite thin. We need to be careful about our own society and not accept as normal things that are not normal. BERMAN: You say you're not making a one-for-one comparison here, but
do you believe the Trump administration is on that spectrum that you just laid out, the 1933 spectrum that you were just discussing?
HAYDEN: John, I was very careful with my words. I said the needle is nowhere near the red, but the needle isn't moving in a positive direction with regard to grievance, nationalism, cult of personality, lies and attacks on marginalize said groups. Those things have changed in the past couple of years.
BERMAN: General, what I do appreciate about you coming on and talking about this is you own it. You don't deny you wrote that tweet. You don't deny what you were trying to do. You were trying to provoke a discussion.
The administration now is not owning its choice. Have the debate on the merits. Have the debate about whether or not children should be separated by [SIC] parents at the border. But there is no debate this was an administration choice. The White House chose this.
And overnight, we have the secretary of homeland security putting out this statement, saying, "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border, period." So how do you interpret that intransigence from a cabinet secretary?
HAYDEN: It was not thoroughly thought out in the administration. It was, like a lot of things, an instinctive response to campaign promises that were made.
And so you're right, John, you've got -- you've got a secretary of homeland security saying it's not happening; an attorney general saying it's the will of God; he president saying, "The Democrats made me do it." And Steve Miller saying, "I did it." What's a country to believe?
BERMAN: Is it a deterrent?