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Report: Babies & Toddlers Being Held at 'Tender-Age' Shelters. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sinful. It's an assault on human dignity.

[05:59:05] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you prosecute the parents, you have to take the children away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is basically holding these kids hostage for his political stunt.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL (via phone): We need to get this thing done. The overall bill the House is considering would be preferable.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I'll lend you my pen. You can fix it yourself.


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, Wednesday, June 20, 6 a.m. here in New York. The pope -- the pope -- now weighing in against the president.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Quite a statement that we'll read.

BERMAN: Pressure -- pressure from around the world now on the president of the United States. This is the starting line.

There's a new term in the immigration debate, igniting all kinds of emotion. Tender-age shelters. Tender-age. Babies, infants separated from their parents by the U.S. government, now being held at three separate facilities in Texas. Officials tell the Associated Press they just don't know how many people there are younger than 5, younger than 2, too young even to talk. They don't know.

What we do know is that the president could end this with a phone call this minute, but he won't. He met with Republican lawmakers and discussed legislation, but they emerged with no clear marching orders. As one source told CNN, the Trump meeting did not move the ball.

CAMEROTA: CNN has also learned that, during that meeting, the president said, quote, "Crying babies does not look good politically," end quote.

Instead of taking questions from lawmakers about this humanitarian crisis, the president his own accomplishments, boasted about his popularity and attacked a vocal critic.

President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is under fire this morning for mocking a story about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome being taken from her immigrant mother.

Compassion is front and center of this immigration crisis. So we have all the angles covered for you.

Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House. What do we expect there today, Abby?


President Trump today continues to decline, to act on his own to end this crisis at the border with separating immigrant families. And he's also trying to push some other immigration priorities on the Hill. He met with House Republicans yesterday about two proposals that they are considering.

But members who were in that meeting say they don't know for sure where the president is on those bills, and they don't think that his presence there helped move the ball on the two proposals.


TRUMP: These are laws that have been broken many years, decades. But we had a great meeting.

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump urging House Republicans to pass immigration legislation amid an escalating crisis over family separations at the border. But stopping short of wholeheartedly endorsing either bill the chamber is considering.

REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: He said it was important to get a bill passed, and he indicated that he would support both proposals.

PHILLIP: A number of Republican sources telling CNN that the meeting was not helpful and didn't move the ball forward. Multiple members telling CNN that President Trump appeared to be behind the more moderate compromise bill pushed by House leadership that would give many DREAMers an eventual path to citizenship, fund the border wall, and stop the practice of family separations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also appearing to endorse the compromise bill.

SESSIONS: Patching the problem is not the right thing. We need to get this thing done. But the overall bill the House is considering would be preferable in my opinion.

PHILLIP: Several lawmakers telling CNN that the president did talk about these disturbing images of children sobbing after being taken from their families.

REP. RANDY WEBER (R), TEXAS: Politically, he said this is bad. But he did say -- he prefaced it by "It's not about the politics. It's about this is the right thing to do."

PHILLIP: But one Republican telling CNN the president talked about family separations only in the context of political optics, telling members, "The crying babies doesn't look good politically."

In the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell expressing optimism about a narrow bill to address family separations, but it remains unclear if it could pass.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: All the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined.

SCHUMER: There are so many obstacles to legislation. And when the president can do it with his own pen, it makes no sense.

PHILLIP: Earlier in the day, President Trump blasted a key provisional of Senator Ted Cruz's bill while doubling down on his hardline immigration rhetoric.

TRUMP: When countries abuse us by sending their people up -- not their best -- we're not going to give any more aid to those countries. Why the hell should we?

PHILLIP: On Twitter, the president accusing Democrats of allowing undocumented immigrants to, quote, "infest the country," as Mr. Trump's surrogates continue to downplay the administration's zero- tolerance policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read about a -- did you say, "Womp-womp" to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome being taken from her mother?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I said is you can take anything you want --


PHILLIP: But public outrage is growing across the country and on Capitol Hill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quit separating the children! We won't go away!

PHILLIPS: Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus confronting the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're separating the kids. They're separating the children. Mr. President, don't you have kids?


PHILLIP: And President Trump heads to Minnesota today. He'll be hosting a roundtable, a business roundtable amid another big political story, the story of his tariff fights with China. He'll also have a campaign rally later in the day.

But Alisyn, this is a big story. The separation of children from their families is not going away for this administration.

CAMEROTA: No, it's not. We'll be talking about it all morning, because there are so many developments. Abby, thank you so much.

So the Associated Press reports that babies and toddlers, the youngest migrant children who have been separated from their parents, are being held at several so-called "tender-age" shelters in Texas. We don't know much about it, but CNN's Nick Valencia has visited one. He's live in Hidalgo, Texas, with more.

[06:05:14] What have you learned, Nick?


These three shelters are located here, according to the Associated Press, in the Rio Grande Valley with a plan for a port to open in Houston.

Now, Health and Human Services defines any child under the age of 13 years old to be tender-age. And since this zero-tolerance policy was implemented, there's been more than 2,300 children that have been separated from their families. The youngest being sent to these tender-age shelters.

And it was on Monday that my crew and I went to a facility run by Southwest Keys, the nonprofit that works hand in hand with HHS. And it's a facility where children, only children younger than 10 years old, are taken.

We were denied access inside by security. But Congressman Filemon Vela was allowed inside, and what he describes to us is just heartbreaking, saying he saw a room inside for toddlers.


REP. FILEMON VELA (D), TEXAS: There's rooms with toddlers. So there's no question that even children underneath the age of 1 are being separated from their families.


VALENCIA: Now, we should point out the Department of Homeland Security says it's not their policy to separate babies from their families. We also earlier this week heard from Customs and Border Protection, who said it's not their policy either, saying that no child under 4 years old is separated from their parents unless they have a criminal history. The problem with all that is, under this new zero-tolerance policy,

anyone who crosses illegally is now considered a criminal -- John, Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia for us in Hidalgo, where it's pouring.

Imagine being 4 years old and waking up in a storm like that? Who do you want to see? If you're waking up in a storm like that and you're 4 years old?

CAMEROTA: I mean, every single scenario you could -- who is putting the kids to bed? Who's feeding the kids? Who's reading to the kids? What's happening inside these tender-age shelters? You know, they haven't been transparent about what it looks like. We're not allowed to bring cameras in there. So there's just a lot of questions about this.

BERMAN: I was just looking at how dark it was behind Nick in the pouring rain, just thinking that's the time you want to hug your kid.

All right. I want to bring in CNN political analysts David Gregory and Rachel Bade. We do have some breaking news. The pope has weighed in on this in an interview with Reuters. He says he endorses the statement by U.S. Catholic bishops calling the separation of children and parents contrary to Catholic values and immoral.

So you have the pope's statement on the one hand. And I want to replay former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski when he was presented with this issue of this girl who has Down syndrome, separated from her parents at the border. Just listen to this one more time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read today about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I read about a -- did you say, "Womp-womp" to a 10-year-old with Down syndrome being taken from her mother?

LEWANDOWSKI: What I said is you can take anything you want --


LEWANDOWSKI: -- but the bottom line is very clear.


LEWANDOWSKI: When you cross the border --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How absolutely dare you, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: David Gregory, your reaction.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is a time when the president is going to use maximum leverage here. He clearly has not shown anything but, you know, the politics of fear and resentment here to advance this policy, which you know, people should understand, it first came to light in 2014 when there were an influx on of migrants coming across the border. This was under the Obama administration. But they elected not to use this particular provision, this ability to separate families. They thought that was too harsh.

This administration has decided that they want to do it for deterrent value, which has clearly not worked.

Right now, it's clear the president and the White House team are using this as leverage to get a broader deal that eluded them before. And I think what's striking now is that it's not just Democrats who are battling the administration over the DREAMers, which is what held up the last legislation. It's Republicans.

I mean, this policy has been condemned across the board except for the most ardent supporters of the president, hardliners within his administration. You have Republicans on Capitol Hill who are opposed to this.

The issue is whether they are going to come together on some kind of bill that will actually address this, along with other things, including border funding. Because the president has made it clear that he is not going to do what he could do, which is just stop the separation policy himself after the larger deal.

CAMEROTA: Rachel, and you have reporting on where we are with the legislation and what the whip count is.

But before we get there, I just want to say one thing about what Corey Lewandowski said. If my fifth-grade son told me that someone in his class, when they were talking about a girl with Down syndrome being away from her parents, said, "Womp-womp," I would tell my fifth-grade son, stay away from that kid. Get as far away from your kid as you possibly can, because that kid is so callous.

BERMAN: It's an unbelievable. It's breathtaking that he said that out loud.

CAMEROTA: An adult said that out loud.

BERMAN: And you can say, look, Corey Lewandowski is not the president. He's not in the administration.

CAMEROTA: He is who the president surrounds himself with.

[06:10:00] BERMAN: And the president is in the administration. It's the president who talked about immigrants infesting the United States here, and that's similar rhetoric to it. It's just very similar, the language that's being used there. CAMEROTA: Well, the language is getting more strident, and the

language is getting more extreme. So Rachel, let me read this to you. This is President Trump's tweet. "Democrats are the problem. They don't care about crime. And they want illegal immigrants" -- we need to fact check this -- "no matter how bad they may be, to pour in and infest our country." I mean, there's that -- there's the language. "Like MS-13." I mean, it's all just so outrageous. "They can't win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters."

There's something about his language getting more extreme that sounds more desperate, as though he's getting so -- I don't know. I mean, I don't want to overanalyze it. But this language spells to me that he's feeling more desperate.

RACHEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. From a fact-check standpoint on that tweet, no, no, no. A lot of that obviously is incorrect.

The president, last night he talked to House Republicans, again tried to say this is Congress's fault. If they want to address the family separation issue, he's got to send them a bill. But again, as we know and we've heard before, the president can stop this in a heartbeat.

It's interesting. The president said that Ivanka came to him yesterday and said, "Look, from a P.R." -- well, she didn't say from a P.R. standpoint, but she said, "These look bad. These images look bad." So it seems like Trump is saying, "Oh, from a P.R. standpoint, this is not the best thing."

But his is so much more than that. This is children, toddlers that we're talking about, obviously.


BADE: Another interesting thing about this is, even though House Republicans and Senate Republicans, as well, do not like this policy, not a single Republican spoke up and pressed the president personally to stop this policy.

CAMEROTA: Is that right? In the meeting -- so you have that reporting that, in the meeting, nobody spoke out and said, "This is madness"?

BADE: To be fair, there wasn't a Q&A session, but leadership didn't press him on this, no. And neither did any other members who are uncomfortable.

GREGORY: Yes, and that's an important point. Because it shows you what we've seen on this issue, is something we haven't seen a lot before, where you've got conservatives. I think of Rob Portman in Ohio.

The -- you know, the leader of the Republicans, the majority leader Mitch McConnell, speaking out against the president's policy in unequivocal terms. But they're not taking the next step to say, "I won't vote on your judges, or I will gum up the works on the rest of your legislation until this gets resolved." Because they don't want to take on the president.

BERMAN: It's also -- you know, speaking out in unequivocal terms, until he's standing there in front of him, when they all sit down.

I understand there's presidential prerogative, and you're not going to interrupt him, necessarily. But if this is something that's so important to you to stand up, you've got to pick your moments. You have to pick your moments.

GREGORY: That's right.

BERMAN: And it's emotional for a lot of people. Which is why this tender-age shelter report from the Associated Press that came out overnight, I think is sparking so much emotion. I think we all knew that these children, and these toddlers and these babies were being held in specific centers.

CAMEROTA: But I didn't know that they didn't know where their parents were. That was some of the reporting, is they don't -- that the parents don't know where the kids are, and the kids don't know exactly where the parents are. I didn't know that.

BERMAN: And these -- some of these children are too young to know anything at all. They just know that their parents are not there right there beside them. Then the actual word "tender-age." Just the idea the United States government is separating children from their parents and putting them in a tender-age shelter, I think that's striking.

GREGORY: I also think -- I think what's important that we keep emphasizing, too, is what this tactic is really about. The political tactic. Because the actual tactic is meant, if you break it down, to send a message -- even though they're inconsistent about this. Different people say different things. To send a message to families, "Don't embark upon this journey, or else this will happen."

Ignoring the fact that, if they are desperate enough to undertake this journey at all with a smuggler or even on their own, they're desperate enough to want to get to the United States, no matter the consequences.

Secondly, you have from the president himself not only making assertions that are untrue about, you know, Democrats wanting voters. This is the same president who talked about all these illegal voters back in 2016 without any evidence.

But it is an attempt to dehumanize migrants, immigrants from another country in a way that we have seen in our history that is really, really gross.

CAMEROTA: Oh, yes.

GREGORY: Whether it's a fear of German spies in the '30s coming, that's why we closed our borders. Or how we treated the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. It's the idea of -- the policies differ. Those are not, you know, parallels. It's the idea of dehumanizing others so you think it's OK to pen them in shelters, because they're not real people.

BERMAN: Rachel.

BADE: But it's also -- you know, it's a negotiating tactic that the White House is doing, right? And I think what we saw last night on the Hill was that it's not going to work.

You know, House Republicans have basically fallen in line with the president when he asked for a broader immigration bill that fixes this policy but also includes money for his border wall, a crackdown on illegal and legal immigration.

And so they have sort of said, "OK, we're going to try this. We're going to try to give you some wins with a fix to this family separation policy." But as they walked out of the room, they did a whip check on the floor just after he said, "Guys, vote for this bill," and it turns out a lot of conservatives are still uncomfortable voting for this bill.

CAMEROTA: Why? Why can't they get to 218, if they've decided that this is the fix?

BADE: Well, that's the thing. There's a lot of conservatives who are worried about voting for this bill, because it includes a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.


BADE: But again, this just shows he can't even get his party to rally around one broader immigration bill, let alone a bipartisan solution that we would have to see in the Senate, because they need Democrats.

GREGORY: Well, and this --

BERMAN: All right, guys, hang on one second, David. We're going to take a quick break. Because what Rachel just said is news, too. Rachel's -- her reporting in The Politico overnight is that the whip count overnight shows the Republicans are not close to passing any of this legislation. That's significant. We'll have much more on that.

Plus, David Gregory's crucial point that he wanted to make just there. What is it? When we come back.

CAMEROTA: Ahead on NEW DAY, we're talking to several lawmakers, some of whom were in that meeting with President Trump, and former cabinet officials about this policy of separating kids from their parents. What can be done?

BERMAN: Be right back.


CAMEROTA: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the architect of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, is facing mounting criticism, including from more than 600 members of his church, the United Methodist Church. [06:20:11] Sessions is defending the policy that has led to families

being separated in this new op-ed in "USA Today." He says, quote, "These children are well cared for. In fact, they get better care than a lot of American kids do. They are provided plenty of food, education in their language, healthcare and dental care and transported to their destination city" -- without their parents. He didn't say that. But -- "All at taxpayer expense. In total, Health and Human Services is spending more than one billion taxpayer dollars a year providing quality care." We haven't fact-checked that yet, but we will.

But the point is, is that -- I mean, according to psychologists, of course, there will be more money having to be spent on these kids for the PTSD that they are suffering from being apart from their parents.

Let's bring in our guests, CNN political analysts David Gregory and Rachel Bade.

David, your thoughts?

GREGORY: Well, I just want to go back to what we were talking about, whether -- to me, the big question is about Democrats. If Republicans do not come on board around a moderate bill -- remember, there are sticking points around what the White House will and will not accept. This concept of, you know, family migration, what they call chain migration. Obviously border funding. And so there's particular elements.

This piece is being brought into it only because the president wants it there. Because he -- this is -- this is a plan that was put in place in 2014 that a previous administration, the Obama administration, decided not to act on, which this administration has. So it's not a loophole in the law. The president has the ability to use this tool, family separation, or not use the tool.

My question is around Democrats. Do they feel so much pressure because of all of this that they're willing yet again, as they did on the DREAMers, to make a broader deal including border funding or no? Will they say, "No, we're not going to have this be an issue that forces a broader deal."

BERMAN: I think we know the answer to that, the broader deal. I don't think Democrats are coming on board. And Rachel, you weigh in here. I don't think Democrats are coming onto the broader deal at all.

I think a more succinct and interesting question is will Democrats even sign onto any kind of legislative fix on the issue of separating parents from children? Because Chuck Schumer has sort of hinted no. He doesn't want this to be legislation. He wants this to be presidential edict -- Rachel.

BADE: Yes. Democrats feel like they have the moral high ground here. And so they don't feel like they're going to be in a position where they have to accept something like Trump's border wall or cuts to legal immigration that they don't want to accept right now. I do think you could perhaps, depending on the proposal, see a

bipartisan very narrowly-tailored immigration bill that addresses the family separation issue. But they're pretty far apart right now in terms of how they would fix this problem.

We're hearing House Republicans and even some of the Senate Republican leadership right now are talking about a fix that would basically keep kids with their parents and allow them to be detained indefinitely in these detention facilities. So they would be together but they would still be, you know, in effect, Democrats say this is effectively jailing kids with their parents.

And so that is repulsing Democrats. It's getting a lot of criticism on the outside by groups like the ACLU. So that's not going to be a solution that passes. The question is what can they come up with that satisfies both sides? Because right now Trump is not showing that he's willing to back off right now.


BADE: And he's looking to blame Congress. So they may have to act to get him to stop this.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, David, if Democrats don't vote on a short-term fix or don't attempt to work with Republicans on a short-term fix, how can they have the moral high ground?

GREGORY: I think it's going to be tough. I mean, you know, you want to really just sit on this and play this out over the summer and then run on this in the fall? There's a lot of danger in that, too.

Look, you've got congressional leaders, Republicans and Democrats, who oppose this. I mean, this is not -- this is a very small group of immigration hardliners who support this policy. And they can't even explain themselves, by the way.

If you go back and look at what General John Kelly, the chief of staff, has talked about, why he considered this, as well, there were some laudable goals. Right? Iin other words, it's not just deterrence, which doesn't make any sense. But talked about how imperiled these -- these kids and young women were along the network of smugglers into this country, which is grotesque what happens.

But they don't even spend the time trying to explain that. They don't allow cameras into these centers, because they're trying to explain how detaining children of illegal immigrants in these tents is somehow, you know, equivalent to what American kids experience?

BERMAN: Well, that --

GREGORY: That's the part -- they can't even do that. And they won't do it, because they just want to rest on the idea that these are -- that they are -- they're essentially vermin. I mean, they're saying they're infesting the United States, that they are criminals, that they are dangerous, you know, gang members. That's what the president of the United States -- that's how he describes these people. [06:25:15] And so that becomes, again, the question: do you have

Republicans and Democrats who come together and say, "Look, we have to stop this. We have to work together"? Or don't they?

BERMAN: Look, when you hear the word "infest," when you hear the word "infest" from the president of the United States; when you hear Corey Lewandowski say, "Womp-womp" to a special needs child --

CAMEROTA: The dehumanization is complete.

BERMAN: And I think it's a legitimate question. Where's your heart? Where is your heart on this issue? What's really driving your motivation? Those are fair questions.

And David, I'm glad you brought up the attorney general and the language he used, because I keep looking at this statement. I'm only seeing it this morning for the first time.

The attorney general of the United States goes out of his way to say that these babies being held in tender-age centers, they're better off than American kids. He says, "These children are well cared for. In fact, they get better care than a lot of American kids do."

And there's a reason he's using this language, Rachel. This seems to be the dichotomy that people close to the president are trying to set up. It's us against them. It's these other non-Americans versus us, the Americans.

BADE: Yes. It's pretty divisive language there. I mean, you have to question it, though. You've seen the pictures, these kids laying on these very thin mattresses, covered with these little piece of paper or aluminum blankets, and also in cages. I mean, if we treated American kids like this, can you imagine the reaction and the blowback? Like we're seeing right now with these migrant kids.

I do think it's interesting Sessions, he's trying to sort of say the other side of the story is the other alternative was even worse in this op-ed that he wrote today.

He says, basically, border agents were having to release migrant families into the country and given a future court date to appear to get their cases adjudicated. And they would disappear into the country and never show up. And this is one of the big problems, the big loopholes in our immigration system that Republicans want to crack down on.

However, a lot of the Republicans on the Hill who support cracking down and closing that loophole did not anticipate this problem where kids were being separated from their families. So they're sort of being put in this pickle where they're having to decide between cracking down on an issue that they think needs to be addressed but also finding a humane situation that they can be proud of and not ashamed as they are on the Hill right now.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I mean, and by the way, every single claim that the attorney general or people in that camp say has to be fact-checked. Sometimes people don't show back up for their court date. Sometimes they do. In fact, we'll get the numbers. I think that the majority do.

And so every single thing that they're making sound as extreme, as an extreme crisis, including the numbers who are coming to the border, are down. So the numbers historically are down. Is it still a problem? Of course. Does Congress need to fix it? Of course.

But the idea that, you know, that they're streaming in, marauding band, all that is so far down from where it was ten years ago, or even five years ago.

And so all of this, this has to -- you know, they can use this overheated language, but we need to keep trying to fact-check it and tamp it down.

BERMAN: Yes, David brings up two good points. No. 1 is these kids and these parents don't, they care if it's presidential edict or legislation. They don't care what gets them back together. So perhaps that should weigh on Democrat's heads if they refuse to vote on this.

And the other thing is you have to fix the problem. What happens when these parents with their children do cross the border? How do they get treated? And that's not answered yet, necessarily.

CAMEROTA: All right.

GREGORY: And this is -- there are broader problems. I mean, the influx of migrants at particular times of year. Bringing in young kids is a problem that the government has to address in a larger way once you can, you know, staunch the immediate crisis here.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, Rachel Bade, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

All right. So now what's happening with the Russia investigation and the other ancillary investigation, including the one that Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, is caught up in? There are -- is some suggestion that he may begin cooperating. We'll report on that.