Return to Transcripts main page


Trump To GOP: Stop Wasting Time On Immigration Until After Midterms; CNN Tours Immigration Facility Housing Separated Children; Trump Calls Portrayals Of Families Grief Over Separations "Phony"; First Lady Visits Child Immigrant Detention Center In Texas. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Chaos, check. Confusion, check. Doing something about it, well, maybe not anymore. As federal agencies struggle with how to implement President Trump's executive order, and how to reunite the nearly 2,000 children separated from their families.

And as the Senate and House leaders struggle to pass a bill about it, here is the president's advice this morning, in a tweet, "Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration until after we elect more senators and congressmen and women in November. Wait." Stop wasting their time. Stop wasting their time. Yes. Here we go again. Let's play his statements from the past week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are -- we're looking to keep families together. It is very important. We're going to be signing an executive order, we're going to also count on Congress. We want to go through Congress. We will be going through Congress.

What I'm asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and properly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis. Wait, wait, can't do it through an executive order.


BOLDUAN: So, it is another head fake today, only Congress can act, I want Congress to act, I need Congress to act, even after I sign an executive order, I need Congress to act, but, please, Congress, do not act and remember how often the president said it is the Democrats' fault.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: If you notice when I came over, they were all saying about separating the families and that's a Democrat bill. That's Democrats wanting to do that, and they could solve it very easily by getting together. They think it is a good election point. I think it is a horrible election point for them.


BOLDUAN: But now with don't waste your time until we elect more Republicans, who is playing politics now? Well, do not ask Jeff Sessions because he's having a go of it himself today.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The American people don't like the idea that we're separating families. We never really intended to do that. What we intended to do was to make sure that adults who bring children into the country are charged with the crime they have committed.


BOLDUAN: Never intended to separate families. Jeff Sessions, it appears, needs to check in with Jeff Sessions.


SESSIONS: If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring him across the border illegally.

I have put in place a zero-tolerance policy for illegal entry on our southwest border. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child may be separated from you as required by law.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Are you considering this a deterrent?

SESSIONS: I see that the fact that no one was being prosecuted for this as a factor in a five-fold increase in four years and this kind of illegal immigration, so yes, hopefully people will get the message.


BOLDUAN: But what that message is coming from the administration is honestly impossible to decipher at this point on this issue. We do know, though, that still some 2,000 boys and girls are still separated from their parents and the administration still saying they are still trying to figure out how to reunite all of these families.

So, let's get to breaking news right now, down on the border, we're learning new details about a facility in South Texas where some of the separated children will hopefully likely be reunited with their families.

CNN's correspondent, Rosa Flores is there, joining me now. Rosa, what are you learning?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, we're learning that the center that you see behind me will be the one that will be used to reunite families. So, as you were saying, this practice that the administration has said that did not lead to the separation of families, well, now the administration is setting up a processing center where they can reunite those families.

And here's what we have learned about this processing center, this is as close as we can get. We will not have access to this facility. We asked yesterday to see if we could get closer to bring you pictures and we were not successful.

We do have, however, aerial footage, take a look at that. We can see this is a massive facility, surrounded by barbed wire. This is in the middle of nowhere. What I see around me are mesquite, brush, sorghum fields, that's pretty much it.

Other than an airport that is nearby which might be used perhaps to bring the children in to then reunite them with some of the families that are inside.

[11:05:06] Now I have talked to one woman who is inside this facility. And this is the woman and her child who have been a voice to the voiceless, to those thousands of women and children who had been separated by immigration officials.

And this is the audio from "ProPublica" of that young girl screaming, of that young girl asking to see if she could call her aunt's number so she could reunite with her while she's being separated from her mother.

I talked to her mother. Her mom is desperate. It has been more than a month and this mom has not been able to talk to her daughter, she's not been able to see her daughter, and as you might imagine, she is paralyzed with pain. Take a listen.


FLORES: Now, Kate, the family of that 6-year-old girl was able to communicate with her. And hear this, this little girl, all she asked after she gets out of detention, she wants to take a shower at her aunt's house and she is hoping to eat a bowl of cereal -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Rosa, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. She's at, we believe, a reunification center in South Texas. We'll see what happens and comes out of that center when we can we'll bring it to you.

Let's go from Texas, though, to Florida now where CNN's Dianne Gallagher just toured an immigration facility in Homestead. Dianne, what did you see?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Kate, this is the second facility that I have toured. This right here is sort of a shelter of sorts, run by HHS, for minors, both boys and girls, from ages 13 to 17. You can probably see behind me, it is a former job corps site, it has dormitories in there, outdoor bathrooms, marked for the children.

It is a pretty regulated facility. I felt like I almost got more opportunity inside that centralized processing center in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday to interact with the people in there than I did inside this facility.

We didn't get a chance to talk, not even really say hello to any of the roughly 1100, almost 1,200 kids that are in here right now, again, ages 13 to 17 right now. I mentioned it being regulated. They actually gave me one, because we kept being the last person in the room trying to see it.

This is the schedule that they have every single day. So, this is what the students do, and I say students because they make them go to classes. They have history class, reading class. They do English as a second language courses, you can see it is in Spanish, almost everything we saw there was either written in Spanish or subtitled in English.

We asked about translators for those who speak native languages. They said they have them. They make them do vaccines. Average they stay about 25 days in this facility. In other facilities like this, we're told it is about 57 days -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And Dianne, did they specifically tell you how many of the children in there are children who have been separated from their families versus as we have learned, children who have come over unaccompanied?

GALLAGHER: So, here's the deal. HHS classifies basically any kid who is in a facility like this as an unaccompanied alien child, UAC. They're all UACs, but according to the director here, she said that they have fewer than 70 who they believe were separated from their parents due to this zero-tolerance policy at the border after those processing centers.

This is the first stop, we're told, after a processing center for the children. So, once they have been separated from their parents, fewer than 70 we're told are here. They have counseling daily, we're told, in group sessions, and at least once a week, individual sessions.

Their workers are not allowed to touch these children, to embrace them or hug them if they lose it and are emotional, but they say they work to put them with a sponsor or get them back with a parent here.

BOLDUAN: All right. Dianne, thank you so much for bringing us what you can from when you are able to get in there. But thank you for bringing us that.

So, how is the president responding to all of this today? Yet, another tweet, that we do want to read to you, "We must maintain a strong southern border. We cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief hoping it will help them in elections. Obama and others had the same pictures and did nothing about it."

CNN's Ryan Nobles is at the White House for us today. Ryan, is the same president who said that he hated images and wanted to do something about it because of these images, is he now saying he thinks these images are phony? RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's clearly what he's saying on Twitter this morning, Kate. It seems with every passing statement from this White House, their story is changing as it relates to the story.

[11:10:10] And in many ways, they want it both ways. They want to continue their tough talk on immigration, the president still pushing for a wall, and still wants tough standards on the border, but at the same time, saying that they're doing everything they can to reunite these families.

As our reporters have so accurately laid out, there are so much confusion on the border right now as to exactly how this executive order is supposed to be implemented and there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of guidance from the White House and from the justice department as to exactly how this entire plane should be laid out.

So, right now, the White House clearly in a defensive posture here and of course, the other big thing happening today, Kate, the president throwing a big bomb into the negotiations on Capitol Hill as to coming up with some sort of legislative solution after days and days of telling Congress to fix this problem.

The president now saying on Twitter this morning, not to even worry about it until after the midterm elections, that is certainly not going to help the process on Capitol Hill -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Let's get to that in just one second. Great to see you, Ryan. Thank you so much. Joining me right now is Pamela Florian, an attorney with the nonprofit, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. She's been representing young children separated from their parents at the border. Thank you so much for coming in, Pamela.


BOLDUAN: First, your reaction to the statement from the president that we heard there, that Democrats are telling their phony stories of sadness and grief, Obama and others had the same pictures, did nothing about it. You're working with these children. What do you say?

FLORIAN: Well, right now we are focused on helping the children. We do not want to comment on what the president is saying at this time. All we care about is the family separation and helping those children go through their cases and hopefully have someone by their side to help them out.

BOLDUAN: OK, I respect that. That's really where the important focus is. You've worked for two years with unaccompanied minors who came across the border. You're now working with some of these children separated from their families at the border. Do you see a difference in the kids who cross alone and those who were separated?

FLORIAN: Yes, so, I have been working at the Florence Project for two years and I have been working with teenagers mostly. But now for a few months we have been seeing younger children. We have been seeing 5-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 3-year-olds, even 2-year-olds.

So now we see that these children, some of them are preverbal. They are highly traumatized. They miss their families and it is very hard to communicate and find their families.

BOLDUAN: Pamela, it really has me thinking. I mean, I have an almost 4-year-old and they have wild imaginations. This is a 4-year-old who can really talk, and they have wild imaginations and sometimes you can't tell if they're answering your question or tell you what they imagined or something that they thought up along the way, along the day. How do you find out what you need to find out from a 4-year-old, from a 2-year-old who has gone through this trauma?

FLORIAN: That is correct. So young children are -- cannot express everything, they cannot answer all of our questions. We really focus on building trust with them. We meet with them multiple times, we try to become their friends, we try to just be there for them so that hopefully they will start talking more and more, so hopefully we can get some of that information. We also reach out to other professionals, and maybe family members who we can find so we can get more information.

BOLDUAN: Pamela, what do you ask them, how do you get -- how do you get them to open up to give you this critical information?

FLORIAN: Well, what we find ourselves doing is playing with them, we take toys with us. We have coloring books, we talk about cartoons, we talk about movies, and then eventually we start asking about their lives. We ask what is your parent's name, who did you come with, do you want to go back to your country? We start asking the questions in hopes that they will be able to answer some of them.

BOLDUAN: Have you seen any families reunited?

FLORIAN: Yes, I have. What happens is that sometimes the parents are deported before the children. So, it takes a little bit of time to find that information and sometimes they are not able to leave at the same time.

BOLDUAN: That is heart wrenching to think about. They even leave the country without being reunited even when being deported. Pamela, thank you very much for coming in. I really appreciate your time.

FLORIAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. Let's talk about this, and let's talk about what it means in Washington and how they're going to fix it if they are. CNN senior political commentator, former senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod is here. David, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: I had a bunch of questions. I know you don't want to react to the Donald Trump tweet, but do it.

AXELROD: Never happened before. BOLDUAN: You've never had to. Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief. Obama and others had the same pictures and did nothing about it.

[11:15:08] AXELROD: Well, look, the problem -- President Obama actually had to deal with a flood of immigrants over the border in 2014 and it was a difficult problem but really --

BOLDUAN: He faced criticism.

AXELROD: He did face criticism and there were stories at that time about it. But the important thing is where we are now and trying to understand what it is that the president is doing here.

And I think it is important to go back to the original image of Donald Trump coming down that escalator and how he entered presidential politics, creating this portrait of bans of marauding illegals coming across the border to threaten your families and so on.

That is a central narrative of his politics and trying to continue it here. I think what he decided is I want to make the midterm about this, you saw it in his tweet this morning where he said don't even touch immigration until after the midterms.

Corey Lewandowski said the other day, this is an issue that really gets our people going. And I think they're worried about Republicans and somehow, they think this can be the motivational tool that they need.

So, you know, he's continuing his narrative in that tweet. And despite all that we have seen, this sort of inhumane treatment of children and this disaster at the border --

BOLDUAN: Despite what he said, despite his own words and what he's saying but on --

AXELROD: One thing we should note, Kate, is that we focus on the negative, there say positive side to this story, which is the American people were outraged by what they saw and forced the president to do what he never does, which is to back up and to relent.

Now he probably is chafing at that point, but it does speak to the power of democracy. We still have a democracy here. People spoke and, there is still a disaster and the lack of organization here and the lack of information is deeply disturbing, it was heartening to see the public outpouring on this issue.

BOLDUAN: And the public outpouring is fix this, get this done, fix this, get these families back together and then talk policy about what you want to do at the border. But even on that point of fixing it, the question is what is getting fixed?

You got the president meets with House Republicans on Wednesday, I think. Wednesday and says I'm with you guys 100 percent, I'll back the bill, I'll back whatever bill you send to me, get it done. One bill fails, the other bill is still being discussed. I believe the president's people are even part of the negotiation on getting that compromise bill together and now the tweet of stop wasting your time.

I know you're not in the business of giving advice to Republican lawmakers, but what do you -- what do you advise a Republican lawmaker to do with this?

AXELROD: Now, listen, I think this is a big problem, particularly this is a particularly powerful issue in those suburban districts that are going to be the real battleground in the fall over control -- for control of the House.

And in those districts, I think this story is playing very, very badly. So just as a matter of politics, there has to be deep concern on the part of Republicans about doing nothing and the fact that the administration has been caught so flat footed and has proved itself to be so inept in trying to deal with the president's improvisational approach on this has made it worse.

BOLDUAN: I do wonder how far and what it -- mea culpa, I screwed up, I think it really can go a long way in the day of no one apologizing, I feel like it --

AXELROD: In your history of following Donald Trump --

BOLDUAN: I'm not saying it would happen.

AXELROD: When did he ever say I screwed up?

BOLDUAN: I'm not saying what happened. To be fair, I did not hear President Obama say that he screwed up when he was dealing with the crisis at the border either. I'm just saying --

AXELROD: President Obama, I mean, in fairness, there were times when he was willing to acknowledge --

BOLDUAN: It was different. It was not created by him. The policy wise --

AXELROD: You're absolutely right. Any president benefits from taking responsibility from being accountable, from saying, you know what, this is on me and we're going to fix it. And yes, that would be a really refreshing thing. It is completely not consistent with who Donald Trump is or how he thinks. So, I wouldn't anticipate that anytime soon.

BOLDUAN: I would agree with you on that. This is a big issue that you're talking about in the next episode of "The Axe Files" and speaking with a very important senator on this issue, Senator Marco Rubio. We have a clip. Watch this.


AXELROD: The president has depicted the people who are coming as dangerous, they're not sending us their best, rapists and murderers.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Not based on a lottery, not people that snuck across the border. And they could be murderers and thieves and so much else.


AXELROD: The vast -- 98, 99 percent of the people being charged with a misdemeanor, they don't have criminal histories. Is it fair?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I don't think it is wise to cast a broad net of generalization over any group of human beings.

[11:20:09] So, yes, there are people across the border who are dangerous and criminals and the like. I would say through my experience the vast majority of people are coming over because they want a better life.

And my sense of it is if you're a father, for example, my situation, my family is desperate, living in a dangerous situation, I would do almost anything to protect my children and find a better life for them.

So, we have to understand that element of it. That doesn't mean we don't have to have laws on our end. Mexico has immigration laws and Canada has immigration laws. I don't think we should generalize that. I think the vast majority of people crossing the border are just coming because they want something better.


BOLDUAN: What is your takeaway? What did you make of your conversation with him?

AXELROD: Well, you know, it's interesting when you think of who Marco Rubio is, the first generation American, son of Cuban immigrants, has a deep appreciation for why people come to this country and why people flee where they came from.

And so, I think he's really cross pressured here because like most Republicans, he's trying to tiptoe around the president, but on this issue, I think he felt he needed to say something because he knows the truth, which is that the vast majority of these people are fleeing murders and fleeing rapists and fleeing horrific conditions.

They're not coming here to create them and the fact that we have greeted them this way is deeply troubling.

BOLDUAN: The president is making it harder and harder for every Republican to tiptoe around this issue with each one of his tweets.

AXELROD: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, David. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. You can watch the latest episode of "Axe Files" tomorrow night 7 Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up for us, First Lady Melania Trump sparking more questions than answers with her visit to a detention facility for children at the border. Was she trying to send a message? What information did she gather? If she was trying to send a message, who did she is sending it to?

Plus, Republican Congressman Mark Sanford on his way out after losing his primary and now firing back at President Trump, what he's saying about the president's attacks and the president's impact on the immigration debate now.



BOLDUAN: First Lady Melania Trump, the first member of the Trump family to get on the ground and visit some of the children held at detention centers down there, some of them separated from their families. Listen.


MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: I'm here to learn about your facility and which I know you house children on a long-term basis. And I also like to ask you how I can help to reunite with their families as quickly as possible.


BOLDUAN: First lady went there to get some answers. I'm sure she did, but her visit is also raising some questions. Joining me now, Anita McBride, chief of staff to First Lady Laura Bush. Anita, thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: What do you think of the first lady's unannounced visit to the border facility?

MCBRIDE: Well, I think the visit was great. It was important, and she asked a lot of good questions in that round table. I think she also was able to present to us that there is some semblance of a structure around these kids who are in this unfortunate situation because we're all really confused about what is going on.

So, that was the good part of her visit. Any first lady has this unique position to be able to bring some humanity to any issue that is facing our nation at the time. And also, be a conduit for important information back to her husband. At least that's the hope.

BOLDUAN: You know, a lot of ink has been spilled about what exactly Melania Trump is saying and doing, kind of around this issue. The statement that her spokesperson put out as a crisis was breaking out, we need she said we need to be a country that follows all the laws, also need it -- also a country that governs with heart.

And then she plans this visit, we learn, to the facility, even before President Trump decided to reverse course on the policy. Do you think, I mean, in your proximity to first ladies, do you think Melania Trump is trying to create distance from the president, do you think she's being critical of him?

MCBRIDE: Well, here is what I think about the issue, about the laws. We are a law-abiding nation. We are a nation that is, you know, has a system in place for laws. Of course, we are a law-abiding nation. She's right to draw attention to that.

We're all very conscious of the fact that, you know, the policymakers and the laws have failed us. It is unclear. So, I don't mind that she's drawn attention to that. I don't think that is at all separate from what the president is saying, that his predecessors failed him, the Congress has -- or has failed the country, the Congress failed the country.

That doesn't detract from the fact that she still can shine a human light on what the real needs and the worries are about the most vulnerable victims impacted by this and that's kids. And she does care about kids. I think she really is sincere about that.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Former First Lady Laura Bush, she is speaking out on this issue and wrote about this policy. We talked about it the day that the "Washington Post" article came out, "I appreciate the need to enforce and protect international boundaries, but the zero-tolerance policy is cruel, immoral, it breaks my heart," she wrote. Laura Bush, she's not someone we hear from very often on controversial policy issues. What is your reaction when you saw it?

MCBRIDE: Well, you know, Laura Bush is a woman maybe of few words, but words she says matter. They have impact and they are heart felt. And she is also, you know, a first lady who also happened to be first lady of a border state and has a keen awareness of what is going on in the immigrant communities and her state.

And also, you know, at the time of the Bush administration, this was one of the great tragedies that happened.