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Protests Across U.S. over Separating Children from Parents at Border; Border Patrol Council V.P./Agent Discusses Immigration, Children at Detention Centers; "Champions for Change" Highlights Candlelighters Who Help Families of Children with Cancer; Trump Stokes Border Fears: "They Will Come By The Millions"; ACLU Challenging Trump's Executive Order; Democratic Lawmaker Describe Visit With Detained Children; Why Immigrants Make Dangerous Journey To United States. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired June 23, 2018 - 17:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. It is 5:00 in the east. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for being with us.

President Trump today firing up Republicans in the state of Nevada. He just wrapped up his speech. He repeated his mantra that America's immigration laws are weak. In his words, a laughing stock all over the world. More on his speech to supporters in Las Vegas in a moment.

But shortly before that speech, emotions and anger boiled over on the U.S. border with Mexico. Watch.


CABRERA: These people protesters shouting at Border Patrol agents and police officers and physically blocking a bus that was loaded with children from leaving a migrant detention center in Texas. That bus eventually did depart with those children on board.


CNN's Polo Sandoval is at that processing center in McAllen, Texas. Polo, obviously that big angry crowd no longer there, but authorities I imagine are still keeping a high state of alert.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And I can show you the pictures here to prove it. You can see these metal barriers that have been set up all along the entrance to this Border Patrol Central Processing Facility.

We're about two miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border. After these families or unaccompanied minors are apprehended or they turned themselves in, they're brought here to this facility. We've shown you what it looks like inside, the pictures of some of those holding areas.

What took place today was some of these pro-immigrant groups have gathered just outside, trying to get their message heard, trying to get their message to some of the people inside. That's when one of these transport buses then pulled out from where you see that white vehicle there.

And that's when this protest then spilled on to the streets, demonstrators blocking the path of this bus. Before we play more of this video, I want to make sure that we make very clear that we have reached out to federal authorities to find out exactly who was on that bus.

I can tell you there were parents and children on that bus, but we don't know where they were coming from, if they had just been separated or just been reunited.


SANDOVAL: I did speak to McAllen's police chief, who had to respond out here when things got a little tense. He did tell me that there were no arrests that were made. Yes, some people had to be asked to get off the road at least. That bus did end up going in the other direction.

We haven't seen any other transport buses make their way in or out here. Again, we are trying to find out exactly who was aboard that bus and more than anything else trying to find out where do reunification efforts stand.

We remember that the president signed his executive order this week calling for these families to remain together even in detention, but the question, what about the mothers and fathers who were separated from their children in the moments and in the weeks after zero tolerance was put in place here so that they can place -- so they can actually face the criminal charges for illegal entry -- Ana.

CABRERA: Polo, some members of Congress have been visiting South Texas today. We talked with Congressman Coffman just a short time ago. We've also spoken with other members who toured last weekend. Tell us about today's visits and what you've learned.

SANDOVAL: They visited this very facility just a couple of hours before those scenes played out here and we heard from those about 26 legislators who traveled here from across the country trying to see firsthand exactly what it looked like.

And they described the scenes inside as heartbreaking, seeing women and children in these enclosures, many of them have described them -- many critics have described them as cages. Lawmakers describe these chain link fences that people with kept in and they're also really calling for immigration legislation.

They feel that is the ultimate fix and at the same time, they also spoke to some of the border patrol agents who are inside trying to get a handle on all this. These lawmakers saying that they feel that the people who are handling these crowds are doing the best they can with the guidance that they have, but still, there is a lot of confusion and a lot of chaos happening behind the scenes, according to these lawmakers.

CABRERA: Right. Polo Sandoval, we know you are going to keep on top of this. Thank you.

Meanwhile, President Trump just wrapped up a speech at a Nevada Republican Convention, weighing in on this unfolding immigration crisis gripping the country. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But if we did that, everybody come, if we did that, you would have, you're right, the word is overrun. We will have millions and millions of people pouring through our country with all of the problems that would cause, with crime and schools.

[17:05:08] And you would have millions -- all I have to do is say, yes, we want to take care of everybody, we want everybody to come, even if they saw weakness -- if they see any weakness, they will come by the millions. We have to have strong borders. We're going to have the wall.

We're going to have the wall. We've already started it. We've already started it. You know, we've started it in San Diego. Our issue is, strong borders, no crime. Their issue is, open borders, let MS-13 all over our country. That's what's going to happen if you listen to them.


CABRERA: So, the president did not specifically mention this issue of families who were being separated or the -- what happens next in terms of reuniting them following his executive order, which addressed this problem at the border, wanting to prevent families from being split up.

And even though that order was signed, the ACLU says it will continue to pursue a lawsuit concerning Trump's treatment of immigrant families and joining us now is, Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. He is leading this lawsuit.

So, thank you for being with us as we talked about the president signed that executive order to prevent families from being separated. What's wrong with it?

LEE GELERNT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE ACLU'S IMMIGRANTS' RIGHTS PROJECT: Well, I think two things. First of all, we don't actually think it will stop separations going forward. There are too many loopholes and that's what we told the judge yesterday. We still need an injunction preventing separations in the future.

CABRERA: So, you don't believe that it's even effective in terms of stopping the separation.

GELERNT: That's absolutely right, future separations, we believe, will still continue under the executive order and that's why we've asked the judge to issue an injunction.

CABRERA: Do you have any proof at this point, though?

GELERNT: It's too soon but we know the exceptions they have written in are exceptions they've used in the past to justify separation. So, given that, we believe that there still will be separations and that's why we've asked the judge to issue an injunction.

If the government doesn't plan on doing separations in the future, the injunction should be no big deal to them. The most acute problem now is what everyone's talking about. There are thousands of little kids separated from their parents. We need to reunite them.

The government is undoubtedly going to come out today, tomorrow, the next few days and say, oh, sure, we have a plan, we have a task. Of course, we have this and that. We don't want to hear that. We want a judge or someone to force them to reunite these kids right away. Get it done.

When the United States government wants to do something, when they prioritize something, they can get it done. They need to prioritize these little kids going to sleep every night wondering if they're ever going to see their parents ever again.

CABRERA: I wonder why you think it's not a priority at this point.

GELERNT: I think it's a priority to deal with it politically. All I'm saying is we want to see it actually get done. That's how we'll know it's a priority, if it actually gets done. I don't mean it's not a priority in the sense that they're talking about it. I mean, they need to prioritize getting it done.

CABRERA: I think people would hear what you're saying and say, yes, we agree, let's force them to reunite these families. But could it be that they weren't reuniting families as quickly as a lot of people would like to see because logistically, the system is complicated?

GELERNT: Well, it's a mess of their own making. They separated these little kids and they didn't put a system in place to track them, so there's no question it's a mess. That's why we're not asking for it to be done in three days, a week, which is what should happen when you have a little baby, a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old.

That's why we've asked a judge they can have 30 days and sooner for little kids. Thirty days is enough when the United States government wants to do something. There's no question it's a mess. They need to turn to nonprofits, they need to ask for help.

They need to put every piece of resource they can into this. That's what it means to prioritize. Say we're not going to have these little kids stay by themselves, not it's a side issue and we're going to keep most of the resources on detentions and prosecutions. They need to get this done. It is really time for these little kids to get back with their parents.

CABRERA: You have a class action lawsuit. That implies that you're representing a lot of families.


CABRERA: What specific families can you talk about?

GELERNT: Well, let me tell you about one specific family that I just met with. They are part of our lawsuit, finally, finally, the mother was reunited with her 4 and 10-year-old son. When she told me was every night the 4-year-old says to her, mommy, are they going to come and get me again and take me away.

That's the trauma we're doing to these little kids. These little kids are going to live with that kind of vulnerability the rest of their lives. That's what the American Academy of Pediatrics said. That's what all the physicians' groups said.

That's what's going to happen. It's happening. It's happened. These little kids are now scarred for life. They were always going to walk around feeling vulnerable. That's a sad thing in this country.

CABRERA: And that's why you want to see them reunited as quickly as possible. Lee Gelernt, please keep us posted.

GELERNT: Thank you for having me.

CABRERA: Thank you for being here. I want to take you now to Brownsville, Texas, where a group of Democratic lawmakers just wrapped up their visit with detained children. One of them was Congresswoman Jackie Speier. Listen to what she said.


[17:10:08] REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: In terms of reunification, I have zero, zero understanding that anyone has been reunited with their parents. I think these children have been sent off. They may have an A number but then when they go through the Department of Health and Human Services, they get a different number so the ability to match them, I think, becomes much more difficult. So, I don't believe that they have been reunified and you've got to show me proof.


CABRERA: Let's get right to Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California. Thank you very much, Congresswoman, for joining us. Why do you doubt children are being reunited?

SPEIER: We saw it. We saw it today over and over again. I got to tell you, Ana, if the American dads moms were with us and saw these children crying in cells, in what would look like a county jail or mothers who were at their wit's end because they have never talked to their kids since they have come into custody.

And they've been in custody for three weeks, one of the mothers was -- was actually breast-feeding a 5-month-old. I mean, I'm anguished just thinking about the trauma that's being created by this senseless, senseless decision by the administration.

CABRERA: Again, the issue of reuniting these families is now such the central question about how it's going to happen. Based on what you observed, the people you spoke to, what is preventing families from being reunited at this point?

SPEIER: The -- what's preventing it from happening is quite simple. The parents do not have the A-number, the alien number of their child and even if they did, it wouldn't do much good because that number is changed once the child is taken into custody by the Department of Health and Human Services, and then flown somewhere across the country into foster care.

So, the matching up of these families is going to be very difficult, but it should be the one and only priority for this administration at this point in time because the pain and suffering that is being endured is unthinkable.

CABRERA: We spoke with Congressman Coffman, your colleague, who is a Republican, who has been very critical of this administration, in particular when we talk about this policy that was enacted to separate the families to begin with.

He seemed to believe there was a plan to get the different systems, the different organizations, parts of this government that are involved in the immigration system together to then enact this reunification. Did you get the sense that there is a plan, they're trying to pursue?

SPEIER: No. Not at all. In fact, the staff at all the facilities are really operating with no policies, no new policies, so the president, you know, signs an executive order, and then washes his hands of it. That is unacceptable.

This is on his watch. This is his process. This is his policy he put in place. If you're going to undo it, then you truly have to undo it by making sure that you match every child with every parent. And right now, that can't be done because the systems between the various agencies do not match up.

CABRERA: I want you to hear President Trump, just this afternoon in Las Vegas, as he took aim at Democrats on immigration. Watch.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's brutal dealing with the Democrats. They want to do nothing, just so you understand, you delegates, you understand what's going on, you are political people, you love the world of politics, sometimes you probably go home and say, why do I like it?

But when you think about it, we're dealing with a group of people that don't want to improve anything. If I said, as an example, if we gave them everything they wanted, they would say, don't approve it.

Because they think immigration -- being weak on the border, which is therefore allowing tremendous crime to come into our country, they think that that's a good issue for them. I don't think being weak on the border, being pathetically weak on the border, I don't think that's a good issue.


CABRERA: Congresswoman, how do you respond?

SPEIER: This is the response of an ignorant, uninformed president of the United States. These mothers and children are not criminals. They are not drug dealers. And for him to somehow foment an idea that that is what he's doing is totally false.

He is separating children from their mothers at the border, even mothers who are breast-feeding their children. That is what has to stop.

[17:15:09] And I implore the president to come down here himself and witness what we saw this afternoon, talk to the mothers, bring Melania with you. Go to the processing center where children are separated from their parents. They're sitting there crying. They're sitting there in fear.

And the mothers who do have their children are sitting in maybe 30 people in a cell with concrete floors and mylar blankets. This is not our America and we refuse to allow this president to conduct himself in a manner that makes this the America that everyone in the world sees.

Let the television cameras go in, Mr. President. Let them document what's really going on and then you'll see that you have done nothing.

CABRERA: Does something need to be done, however, to deter illegal immigration at the southern border?

SPEIER: Of course, we need to have strong policies, but you don't separate mothers and children. You put them through the asylum process if they're seeking asylum, and eight out of ten asylum seekers do not receive asylum.

So, there are many, many things we could do, should do, and I'm happy to, you know, work with the president to do those things, but you do not separate mothers and children as he has done and at weeks on end, these mothers have not seen their children, have not talked to their children, have not been represented by counsel. This is what has to stop.

CABRERA: Real quickly, Congresswoman, you did bring up the fact that cameras haven't been allowed into these facilities. Why is that, do you think?

SPEIER: I think it's because they don't want anyone to see how truly diabolical it is. I mean, I thought I was in a third world country when I walked into the processing center at the Border Patrol offices. I really thought that I could have been in a third world country. It was that bad. So --

CABRERA: I mean, describe that, though, for us because you say third world country. Are you seeing maltreatment of people?

SPEIER: No, I'm saying the conditions. I mean, they were stark cells, they were concrete floors, and the kids -- these 3-year-olds, 2-year-olds, had mylar, thin, tinfoily covers on which they were supposed to cover themselves with while they slept on concrete floors, separated from their parents.

CABRERA: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, we really appreciate you taking the time. Thank you for describing what you witnessed today, and let's please keep in touch.

SPEIER: Thank you.

CABRERA: Before many people who cross the U.S. southern border make it there, they have to make a choice between possible death from drug gang violence or making the risky journey and that could be on the top of freight trains, even on makeshift rafts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is how Central American migrants cross the border. As you can see, we are on a makeshift boat. This is a river that serves as a border line between Guatemala and Mexico.




CABRERA: Back to our top story, immigrants and what happens to them when they cross America's southern border. Why do so many people, so many families uproot themselves and travel in often life-threatening situations just to get to the United States?

CNN's Rafael Romo went to Guatemala and to Honduras to see firsthand, and here is some of what he found.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): We found them just below a bridge connecting Mexico and Guatemala. When we first witnessed these scenes in 2015, it was clear that the border was wide open for migrants and anything you want to smuggle. Little has changed.

(on camera): This is how Central American migrants cross the border. As you can see, we are on a makeshift boat. This is the (inaudible) River, which serves as a borderline between Guatemala and Mexico.

Something that caught my attention is that you can't really see any migration authorities or the military or police.

(voice-over): A former top Guatemalan official told us their priority is not detaining migrants but fighting drug traffickers. There are more than 400 border crossing points where authorities have little or no control.

(on camera): We are flying over the Guatemalan highlands. We are on our way to the province of Peten. Peten is an area that is known by people in the region as a migrant passage point. Not only people from Guatemala but also El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.

ROMO (voice-over): Why are entire families fleeing Central America? We traveled to a city in Honduras that has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

(on camera): This is the Chamelocon (ph) neighborhood here in the city of San Pedro Sulam (ph). Authorities say that many people have chosen to leave because they were fleeing violence. Operations like this one by the military police are seeking to restore confidence in authorities, so that people can return to their neighborhood.

(voice-over): But those who leave have no intention of returning. At the end of the day, they told us they only have two options, facing a gun-toting ruthless member of the criminal gang known as MS-13 who will kill your son and your family if he doesn't join in, or risking their lives to reach the United States, traveling by land through Mexico and crossing the border illegally.

The prospect of a life in America, albeit remote and even if they're temporarily separated from their children, will always be preferable to imminent death at home.


[17:25:10] CABRERA: And CNN's Rafael Romo joins us now. So, you've been reporting on this issue for a lot of years, Rafael. You are an immigrant to the United States yourself, you moved here legally as an international student.

You grew up in a town in Mexico just 50 miles from the border with Arizona. So, you know this issue now. We saw in your piece how easy it is for Central Americans to cross into Mexico. Are authorities in Mexico or in Central America doing anything to stop the flow of people?

ROMO: Well, very little, Ana, for two reasons. One, resources and personnel are tight in countries like Guatemala. Instead of detaining migrants, would rather use their security forces to fight drug traffickers and criminal gangs.

Two, governments in Mexico and Central America see migration as a human rights issue and believe they shouldn't be in the business of detaining each other's citizens.

CABRERA: Your piece highlighted the dangerous neighborhoods in Honduras. Why don't people there just move to safer neighborhoods or cities within their own country?

ROMO: Yes, it's a very good question. It boils down to poverty, really. Some of these families can barely make ends meet or worse and don't have the resources to relocate to better and more expensive neighborhoods or cities.

What they do is sell everything they have and use the money to pay a smuggler that will take them illegally to the United States. It's really their one shot at living a safer and better life.

CABRERA: Hard to understand. Thank you, Rafael Romo. We appreciate that.

So, what do Border Patrol agents think the solution to the current crisis at the border is? What goes through agents' minds when they have to separate families? Just ahead, we'll talk with an agent who has been on the job for 18 years. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:31:19] CABRERA: Happening right now, live pictures from Homestead, Florida. You can see protesters have gathered. They are outside a detention facility there in Florida. Let's listen for just a minute and see if we can hear what they're saying.




CABRERA: Again, these are live pictures from Homestead, Florida. And it sounds like they're saying, "Ain't no fear." "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here," is what they are chanting.

We can tell you Senator Bill Nelson, who, of course, is from Florida, visited this same area earlier today and he had tweeted out that there are roughly 1,000 migrant children who were reportedly being held at this migrant center, again, in Homestead, Florida.

We are now seeing protests happening across the country. We showed you the one in McAllen, Texas, a little bit earlier. We'll continue to watch these images and keep you posted on anything that develops from the situation. Again, in Homestead, Florida.

Meantime, I want to turn to Hector Garza. He is joining us as vice president-at-large of the Border Patrol Council.

And as we continue to monitor these live images, Hector, you're in an interesting position as a Border Patrol agent yourself. You have been with Border Patrol for 18 years. And I'm curious what you and your colleagues think about what's going on right now at the border.

HECTOR GARZA, VICE PRESIDENT-AT-LARGE, BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: So, first of all, for our agents, we go out there and we conduct our jobs professionally, respectfully. And anybody that comes into our custody is treated with dignity and respect. We're parents ourselves. We care about the people that come into our custody. And that's our priority. The fact of the matter is, there's laws on the books and we have to do our jobs. But of course, this is something that has been going on for quite some time. Immigration reform is something that needs to happen.

CABRERA: Estimates show some 3,000 children have been separated from their parents. What has it been like to have to participate in those separations? What kind of emotional impact does it have on you? I know you say that you're doing your job the best you can, but I would imagine it's hard not to feel something.

GARZA: Correct. Family separation is definitely difficult, whether it be somebody coming as an immigrant or somebody in the United States. It's something that is very, very difficult for any human being, and also for our agents. Something that is very comforting is the fact that, as agents, we treat these people with respect. And we know that a lot of these children that are held in these detention centers, they're held in very, very good conditions compared to in the past in some of the conditions that they were held before.

CABRERA: How can you be so certain of that?

GARZA: So, I've been a Border Patrol agent for 18 years. In 2014, under the Obama administration, I became a whistleblower and reported violations of law to the Office of Special Counsel. Because something that we were seeing in 2014 was that we were holding a lot of immigrants without access to food, access to water, access to restrooms. We had people that were detaining them in sally ports. There was not enough space. They were held in overcrowded detention cells. And I contacted the local authorities who reported to and contacted the fire Marshall at my station. And I also became a whistleblower to report the horrendous conditions that people were being held in. This time, under the Trump administration, as agents, we have not seen any of that. And we feel that the lessons that have been learned from the past have now impacted the way we hold people and the way we treat people. And I'm happy to report that things are being done very humanely with dignity and with respect.

[17:35:00] CABRERA: I talked to Congresswoman Jackie Speier earlier this hour. She toured some of these detention centers today. And I want to play for you what she said.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER, (D), CALIFORNIA: I mean, I thought I was in a third-world country when I walked into the processing center at the Border Patrol offices. I really thought that I could have been in a third-world country. It was that bad. So --


CABRERA: I mean, describe that, though, for us. You say third-world country. Are you seeing maltreatment of people?

SPEIER: No. I'm saying the conditions. I mean, they were stark cells. They were concrete floors. And the kids -- these 3-year-olds, 2-year-olds, had mylar, thin tinfoily covers on which they were supposed to cover themselves with while they slept on concrete floors separated from their parents.


CABRERA: So, Hector, do you disagree with her description?

GARZA: Well, so there's two different things that we need to consider. The first one is that when people are initially arrested, either in the desert or after crossing the Rio Grande River, they have to go through Border Patrol processing centers. Those processing centers is where they initially are being held, and that's only a temporary holding facility. That's where you see the screens with the mylar blankets or the thermal blankets where the detainees are being covered. But then you have the long-term detention centers. Those are the long-term detention centers that are held up to higher standards, where people have access to showers, where people have access to food and stuff like that. I think what's happening is that we're mixing in the two different detention facilities. The temporary one, where people spend a very limited amount of time, and the actual more permanent detention centers.

CABRERA: Now, we have heard the audio, though, of these children crying, wanting their parents. I mean, is this the best we can do?

GARZA: So, in reference to the kids crying and stuff like that, that's something that's not very unusual. As a matter of fact, even our adult immigrants cry when they're being detained. A lot of them cry because they're very grateful that we rescued them from the brush or we rescued them from the desert. So the crying kids is not something that surprises me because that's something we've been hearing for a very long time. And they can be crying for not only being separated, legally separated, but kids are kids. If you go to any school during the first day of school, you're going to see a lot of crying kids. But that is not indicative of how these people have been treated. Our agents do a very, very noble job and treat people with dignity and respect. Again, that's something that people need to understand. We're human being. We care. We're Hispanics. We're from the border. We care about the people coming to our custody. And that's a message that we want to make sure that people understand.

CABRERA: Why do you think they are not allowing any media cameras into these detention centers? Why the lack of transparency?

GARZA: Yes, that's very difficult to answer. I can tell you for a fact that the National Border Patrol Council and our Border Patrol agents will not tolerate any abuse. They will not tolerate any violations of civil rights. If we, as agents, are seeing that, you can guarantee we're going to be out here denouncing that on public media. We're going to go to the American public and let them know things are happening. We have not been seeing that. Rest assured, we do not condone abuse and we do not condone bad behavior or violations of civil rights. That's something that we don't stand for, and we'll be the first ones to come out and report that.

CABRERA: Hector Garza, thank you for offering your perspective.

GARZA: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Just moments ago, we got some live video, live feed of a person driving a car. Why this is a big deal? Well, this driver is in Saudi Arabia. The driver is a woman. And this is the first time, the very first hour it has been legal for her to get behind the wheel. We will take you there next, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[17:43:30] CABRERA: Welcome back. Now to a remarkable moment for women in Saudi Arabia. They are able to do something right now they couldn't do just an hour ago, get behind the wheel of a car. The kingdom has just lifted its longstanding ban on women driving, bringing this ultraconservative gulf nation into line with the rest of the world. For many women aspiring to social freedoms and economic empowerment, this day couldn't have come soon enough.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It feels weird. I'm so happy. There's no words can explain what I'm feeling right now. I'm just too proud to be in, like, doing this right now. And good luck to every woman out there who's driving right now at 12:00. And be safe. I'm taking you guys with me to my father's house. We live in two different houses. He never seen me drive before. He just knew I drove in California. And now it's going to be his first time to see his daughter driving.


CABRERA: Just think about that. Never having been able to drive in that country. Women who were new to driving, though, could, however, try out driving simulators and practice parking before now doing it officially on the road.

A 2013 "CNN Hero" is running the equivalent of 65 marathons, 1,700 miles, from Seattle to San Diego. The reason? He's hoping to raise $250,000 to help provide free rides for children with cancer to their chemotherapy treatments.


[17:45:14] RICHARD NARES, CNN HERO: Say good morning, daddy.

My son, Emilio, was diagnosed with leukemia.


NARES: I love you, Batman.

We were fortunate. We had rides to the hospital to bring Emilio. And many families don't have that support.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to blow the kiss to the camera?

NARES: They can't start the fight without getting to the hospital. We get them here in a nice clean environment and on time.


No child should miss their treatment due to lack of transportation.


CABRERA: To learn more about Richard's run, head to You can also nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero."


[17:50:16] CABRERA: All this week we have been telling stories of extraordinary people and organizations that are truly making a difference. And this special series called "CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE" gives us an opportunity to highlight issues that are important to us.

And for me, that is pediatric cancer. I have a very personal connection. My brother was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was just 10 years old. He is the youngest of five siblings in my family. That led me to an organization here in New York City that is tirelessly bringing light, comfort and joy to other families facing the same fight.


AILEEN RICHERT, MIKEY'S MOTHER: I feel sad because I feel sometimes like his childhood was robbed.

CABRERA: Mikey, how old are you?


CABRERA: So you are a teenager already?



CABRERA (voice-over): Mikey Richert has spent a quarter of his childhood fighting brain cancer.

MIKEY RICHERT: This side won't grow because radiation.

CABRERA (on camera): I like your Mohawk. That was good.

AILEEN RICHERT: When Mikey was almost finished his secretary fight of blastoma, my husband was diagnosed with stage-four lung and bone cancer. To have that person get sick in front of you and watch him deteriorate as your son starts to get better, it was really, really tough.

CABRERA (voice-over): Nine months after his diagnosis, Michael Sr. died.

AILEEN RICHERT: At that point you feel like you can't breathe. But you still try your best to take care of everyone and keep your little kids going.

CABRERA (on camera): Seeing Mikey immediately took me back to Colorado and it made me think of John, my brother. He was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was just 10 years old. Medulla blastoma, the same kind of cancer as Mikey.

JOHN CABRERA, ANA CABRERA'S BROTHER: The doctors said that they didn't have a cure for brain cancer at that time, so I was taken back by that, and I was like oh, my, it looks kind of bleak for me.

CABRERA: I remember feeling as a sibling very helpless.

What were you thinking about in this picture?

JOHN CABRERA: I don't know. I -- I was just happy that you were here.

CABRERA: I wanted to be able to do something for him as he was struggling and suffering, and yet there was very little I could do. And I think that that's what really led me to Candlelighters.

BARBARA ZOBIAN, FOUNDER, CANDLELIGHTERS, NEW YORK CITY: The day that they found out their child had cancer is the darkest day of their life. Candlelighters helps bring them into the light.

You look so pretty.

Hi. Where's the other one?

Get over here. I need double hugs.

We needed that personal touch that we are their best friends.

Hi, John.

And they are ours, too. We become family.

CABRERA: Candlelighters is really a unique organization. It meets the family where they need it most. It may be a simple comfort or it might be a big wish.

ZOBIAN: If we can just make a tiny bit of difference, that's enough.

CABRERA: What did you see that Candlelighters could offer that wasn't there already?

ZOBIAN: There still isn't nothing like Candlelighters, New York City. We are a family.


ZOBAIN: These families come from all over. They sit on my couch. They play with my dog. They lie down on the bed if they are tired.

CABRERA: Do you want to open it yourself, or can I help open that for you?



CABRERA: Put your head up for one second so we can get the collar working.

Oh, yes.

ZOBIAN: I'm very, very, happy.

CABRERA: What does it feel like to be able to help families in that way?

ZOBIAN: Feels like a fairy godmother.

Wasn't that better? Yes. It has to be proper. You know, when you're a cop, you've got to be proper.

We are able to make little wishes come true every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are officially making them police officers in Central Park Precinct. Please welcome Beckham Peterson.


ZOBIAN: New York City is so rich. We share with them. And we want all of New York City to feel the good feelings that we feel.

CABRERA: That's a very cool picture. Is that you at the Knicks game?


CABRERA (voice-over): For Mikey and his siblings, it was an unforgettable night courtside at a Knicks basketball game.

MIKEY RICHERT: Everybody was smiling.

CABRERA: For his mom, simply an hour of pampering.

[17:55:01] AILEEN RICHERT: It was such a nice treat to have a glass of champagne and get my hair washed and get it done for me. What Barbara did for me that day, that was just so nice to breathe again.

CABRERA (on camera): Barbara is a champion for these kids with cancer. Barbara is a champion for their families.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: I love you more than anything in the whole wide world.


I could spend all of my life just crying, but I would be under a blanket and not helping anyone.

CABRERA: So instead, you are making something with that?

ZOBIAN: I'm turning crappy into happy. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: Each of these children are champions, too. Mikey's battle continues. After fighting leukemia he is slowly recuperating from a bone marrow transplant he received in March. And I had a chance here to visit with him in the hospital recently He is so brave, so strong. And Candlelighters continue to support him and his mom and his whole family during this difficult recovery.

And also, Beckham, or maybe I should say Officer Peterson, he just celebrated his eighth birthday. He and his family are from Utah. They have been in New York for several weeks for ongoing treatment.

And that is the thing here. So many of the families come from all around the country. Imagine what it is like to go through this away from family and away from home in the big city life New York. That is why Candlelighters, New York City, is there.

Be sure to watch CHAMPIONS FOR CHANGE one-hour special, tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN. So many incredible organizations doing so much for our communities.

I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. Thank you for being with me.

"SMERCONISH" is next.