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Migrant Children Alleged Abuse; Confusion in Court over Separations; House Delays Vote on Immigration Bill. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 06:30   ET


[06:31:50] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, roughly 2,300 children have been separated from their families at the border in just the past few weeks. But where are they this morning? In most cases, their parents do not know the answer to that.

Add to this these new allegations of abuse at two facilities, uncovered in court documents, that include use of restraints, medication, and assault. We have no idea if any of these 2,300 kids are being held at either of these facilities. So CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has more on the story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Outlined in court filings and special reports and witness statements, the allegations range from unsanitary conditions to un-air conditioned rooms in hot Texas summers and dosing children with mood-changing drugs allegedly disguised as vitamins at the non-profit Shiloh Treatment Center in Mandal, Texas. Legal files quote immigrant children being held down for injections, given multiple psycho tropic medications against their will, some not even approved for use in children. One case, a boy was simultaneously placed on six psychotropic drugs and an independent psychologist found the boy had been diagnosed with psychotic disorder, though he didn't have any symptoms.

Another child, 13, from El Salvador, said in a witness statement, I did not want the injection. Two staff grabbed me and the doctor gave me the injection despite my objection and left me there on the bed.

In other cases it's alleged children were forced to take pills that staffers called "vitamins," given to them without their and their parent's consent. An 11-year-old girl said she was forced to take 10 pills a day, saying, I would rather go back to Honduras and live on the streets than be at Shiloh.

Shiloh would not comment. In 2014, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee called for the state to order the closure of the Shiloh Treatment Center but it's still open. Migrant children are still being sent there.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: If we have children in danger in the federal government custody, it is our responsibility to immediately begin investigation. GRIFFIN: At the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia, which

holds teens accused of being violent, one child wrote of physically being restrained and physically abuse by staffers. They handcuffed me and put a white bag onto my head. They took off all my clothes and put me into a restraint chair. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days. This punishment chair was described in at least five other declarations from children.

Shenandoah would not comment to CNN, but in court documents denied any assault of residents, but did acknowledge staffers used an emergency restraint chair as a last step of progressive response to aggressive behavior.

Some of the complaints and allegations stem from a long-running lawsuit challenging the legality of the U.S. locking up or detaining any underage undocumented minors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The care they receive is shocking. What we have witnessed shocks my conscience. And I have to repeatedly remind myself that this is actually happening in our country.

[06:35:11] GRIFFIN (on camera): Most of the problems cited at Shenandoah and other facilities did take place before the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy. But activists' attorneys tell us that policy is only putting extra strain on an already flawed system.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So just to reiterate what Drew just said there. These charges largely come from before the separation policy that the Trump administration chose to make their position.


BERMAN: But the issue here is that there's been no transparency. There have been so few cameras, reporters, officials, members of Congress allowed into these facilities. We don't know the conditions of the children who are being held.

CAMEROTA: And we don't know where the kids, the 2,300 kids, are going. There's no transparency about that. So, who knows?

But also, I mean, I think that the issue is, who are we as a country?

BERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: Are we comfortable with minors being chained to a chair and having a white bag over their head? I -- you know, let's just -- let's just debate that and figure out who we are as a country.

BERMAN: And imagine being a parent not knowing if one of your child is at one of these facilities.

CAMEROTA: All right, so we have lawmakers coming up to talk about all of this and what they're going to do.

BERMAN: Indeed. And, again, this is all about the confusion, mass confusion right now about just what the administration is doing to reunite some of these 2,000 children who have been separated from their parents because, frankly, this morning, we just don't know.


[06:40:59] BERMAN: The prosecution of some migrant parents has stalled despite the Trump administration insisting its zero tolerance border policy is still in effect. On Thursday the cases of 17 adult immigrants separated from their children were removed from the docket for reasons that are unclear. Also unclear and really what's most important here, the location of their children.

Joining me now, Carlos Garcia. He's an immigration attorney helping those adults reunite with their children.

And, Carlos, thanks so much for being with us.

I just want to have our audience understand the level of confusion here, just dealing with these 17 cases.

At 9:15 a.m. public defenders announced these cases were dismissed. At 1:52, the U. S. Attorneys' Office denied the cases were dismissed. At 3:02, the public defender's office says 17 were removed from the docket. At 3:49, HHS says they're still awaiting guidance on implementation of the executive order. And at 5:19, a judge confirmed that these 17 cases put on a docket were put there by mistake.

Without going into the specifics here, this just seems to illustrate a level of confusion. Is that what you're seeing?


What we do know is that those 17 people were brought in chains from the McAllen Border Patrol Station. They were originally on the docket. And then the federal public defenders did notify them that the prosecutors would not be moving forward with the charges. But it's definitely confusing.

It's equally confusing when they don't know where their children are.

BERMAN: Well, talk to me about that. They don't know where their children are. Do they have any sense at all? Are they in Texas? Are they in nearby states? Are they across the country?

GARCIA: No sense at all. In fact, by the time they come into court and we have the opportunity to talk to them, because we're trying to gather information to further the reunification process, they're asking us, where is my child? And, unfortunately, I can't get them that answer. I have to tell them that that's why we're here, to try to help with that reunification process. They have no idea where their kids are and they haven't seen them for a couple of days. BERMAN: And what happens? I can't imagine being told by someone that I

don't know where your child is. How do these parents react when you don't have any answers for them?

GARCIA: I mean, it's so emotional, the tears in their eyes. I look into their eyes and I see desperation. I see shock. I see just terrible sadness. I wish there was a different word that I could use to describe it, but it's extremely sad because we don't offer any good, concrete information as to where their kids are and they haven't spoke to them in a matter of days.

BERMAN: So you're an attorney right in the middle of this, trying to navigate this process. Do you feel like you have any understanding about how this is now supposed to work following the president's executive order?

GARCIA: No, absolutely not. It's day by day. I wish we could get some more transparency or some more information as to how this process is working.

The government manufactured this unaccompanied minor crisis, and they should have a plan in place to deal with it. But as we're finding out, there was no plan in place or if there is a plan in place it's not being executed properly.

BERMAN: So we're two days since the executive order. Have you seen any evidence that families are being reunited? At least a few?

GARCIA: Based on our interactions here, I have not, because most of those children have gone to ORR custody. They're already somewhere in a detention center somewhere. That's going to take a while. That's going to be a long process.

I do know that we did get one phone call at the office indicating that a family was there. A mother was there with her young daughter, but that's all the information that I received. And we haven't received any information that she had been separated from her daughter. So that is what we got yesterday.

BERMAN: Well, one is something. And I'm glad for that family, to be sure. It's the other families now that our thoughts need to be with.

[06:45:04] Have you seen any evidence that the government is continuing to press charges to prosecute these parents coming over the border with their children? Because that's where some of the confusion is. There are certain agencies saying that right now they're not going to prosecute the parents. They're going to pause on that. Others still say there's zero tolerance. Where do you think things stand?

GARCIA: Well, yesterday, we saw those 17 -- the government execute their discretion and not prosecute them. The afternoon was docket (ph) because the weather here has been horrible. We're about to go into court probably in about an hour and a half from now, and so we'll find out what's going on here, at least in McAllen.

As far as the people who are detained, they are detained with their families. But the executive order talks about ending family separation. We don't know if that's going to happen because they want to expand family detention. And who knows where that's going to get us. That's not the answer.

BERMAN: So, Carlos Garcia, thanks for bringing us, trying to understand this. Of course, right now we just don't understand what's going on. It's simply too confusing. But thanks for being with us, Carlos.

GARCIA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: John, you can't understand it because there is no plan.


CAMEROTA: There is no plan for how to restore these thousands of children to their parents. How is that possible that they don't know how to do this? We're going to talk to a lawmaker about it, next.


[06:50:19] CAMEROTA: President Trump continues to falsely blame democrats for his own policy that led to this immigration crisis. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They don't care about the children. They don't care about the injury. They don't care about the problems. They don't care about anything. All they do is say, obstruct, and let's see how we do, because they have no policies that are any good. They're not good politicians. They've got nothing going. All they're good at is obstructing.

Their policies stink. They're no good. They have no ideas. They have no nothing, the Democrats. All they can do is obstruct and stay together and vote against and make it impossible to take care of children and families and to take care of immigration. We should be able to make an immigration bill.


CAMEROTA: Of course Republicans are in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House. The Trump administration is still unable to explain, though, today, how they will get those children back to their parents.

So, joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He serves on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thank you for being here on this really important day.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good morning. CAMEROTA: Do you have any confidence that ICE officials, or any federal initials, know where all of these 2,300 kids and have a plan and a process to restore them to their parents?

SWALWELL: No, Alisyn, I do not. And that should be our highest priority as lawmakers. Concerned Americans over the last few weeks were quite loud and they wrote their lawmakers, they posted on social media, they showed up at the detention centers. And that moved the president to correct this very inhumane policy. But now we must make sure that we do all we can to reunite these children who were ripped out of the arms of their loving mothers and fathers.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, I don't know how you're going to do that, because what we hear is that there's no database of these kids and where they went. There's no tracking system. That can't be possible. It can't be possible. But that's what the reports are saying.

Do you know if there's any sort of federal tracking system that can find these kids?

SWALWELL: I'm not aware of one. But what we are trying to do in our district, Alisyn, in the east bay of northern California is to talk to all of the shelters, the child care centers, the social workers to see what they know. And if every member of Congress is doing that, I think we have a good chance to find as many of them as possible. And many people just see, you know, children on airplanes in large packs, you know, reporting that is also important. It has helped us have a sense of where they are.

But we shouldn't do anything legislatively until we can reconnect these children. That has to be our highest priority right now. No child should go to sleep this evening away from their parents. And that -- that is a moral responsibility we have. That's a human responsibility we have.

CAMEROTA: Well, they are going to go to sleep without their parents tonight.


CAMEROTA: And I'm worried that there is no system. I mean I don't know how a four-year-old who speaks only Spanish can explain to a federal agent where their parent is or what their name is or what the phone number is to call their mother. I don't -- I find this to be very haunting that there's no system and that you're going to have to go shelter to shelter and try to talk to these kids individually to figure out where their parents are.

SWALWELL: And not just the four-year-old, Alisyn. You know, a mother who's been turned away or now is going back toward her Central American country, very likely out of communication, has limited resources in her ability to communicate back to the United States. And so, yes, it is a crisis in our country right now. It's a humanitarian crisis. And so that should be our priority. And continue to put the pressure, because this administration I think has shown is that it's willing to deceive the American people. And only when we make the phone calls, show up in the streets, put the pressure on can we get the result that is right.

CAMEROTA: OK, but, congressman, why can't you do two things at once? Why can't you work on legislation?

SWALWELL: No, we have to do 100 things at once. Oh, yes. Yes --

CAMEROTA: Yes, you have to do 100 things at once.

So let's talk about the legislation that you currently --


CAMEROTA: That is being delayed but is supposed to be voted on next week. So this is the so-called compromise bill. This is the bill that, as you know, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, McCaul, Goodlatte, are behind. Here are the tenets. It is more moderate than what failed in terms of the more conservative bill yesterday. It gives dreamers an eventual path to citizenship. It gives President Trump $25 billion for his border wall. And it revises the Goodlatte provision that failed to address family separation, which, of course, is what we're talking about. Can you get on board with this?

SWALWELL: No, Alisyn, it reduces by a third the number of dreamers who are eligible. It gives no pathway to citizenship for the 12 million who are in our country. And, also, it ends the family reunification program and punishes 3 million people who have already gone through that program and have been granted a pathway.

[06:55:06] But there was a bipartisan bill. The Pete Aguilar-Will Hurd bill. That's what actually put in motion the Republicans wanting to do something on their own. They should have gone forward with what I signed and most Democrats and a good chunk of Republicans signed. So there's consensus among Democrats and Republicans on what we should do. But if it's just going to be partisan, Alisyn, then they're going to have to bring the votes on their own and they weren't even able to do that, and that's why they've now delayed it.

CAMEROTA: But just so I understand, because we keep being told that there is a pathway to citizenship for dreamers in this compromise bill. So why do you say there isn't?

SWALWELL: Well, because they reduced by a third the number of dreamers who are eligible. So it --

CAMEROTA: So what's their number now?

SWALWELL: So they reduced it from, I think, 1.8 million to 1.2 million, Alisyn. So they've dropped, you know, just under a third of the dreamers eligible. Also 3 million people who had already gone through the process, applied to be reunified with their families, are now ineligible under this system, which we think is inhumane. And then when it comes to the border funding, Alisyn, 25 billion, that's an extraordinarily high amount of money that could go to --

CAMEROTA: But that's the -- I understand, but that's something the Democrats already had gotten on board with, like Senator Chris Coons. I mean in the Senate they already had proposed that number. I mean it just sounds like -- are you quibbling over numbers at this point when there just has to be a fix soon?

SWALWELL: Yes, well, I -- I think we had the fix and that's what put this in motion. So why would they want to go now to just a strictly partisan bill, Alisyn? So I -- I would go back to the one that had consensus. The president's best day -- I really believe this -- was when he convened Republicans and Democrats at the White House. He said, you work on the bill. You pass it. I'll take the heat and sign it. Lindsay Graham, Dick Durbin brought that bill to him and then, two days later, he said those awful things about immigrants and we've never been able to get back to that point.

But this takes -- this will require a bipartisan solution. And if Democrats are cut out of negotiating, then this is going to continue to be a crisis and children will sleep tonight away from their parents.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much with your -- with your perspective.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.


BERMAN: All right, what is happening at the border for these children who have been separating from their parents? The answer is, who knows? Certainly the administration does not know this morning. One branch of government can't agree with the other. And right now the lives and future of more than 1,000 kids hangs in the balance.

We'll be right back.


[07:00:00] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

The White House appears to be telling the truth about at least one thing when it comes to the crisis at the border, they have no policy.