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Scandal-Plagued EPA Chief Makes Commemorative Coins; How Long Will Kids Remain Apart From Parents?; HHS: 2,458 Children Under 13 Years Old in Shelters. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 16:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: One thousand eight hundred children are still apart from their parents.

THE LEAD starts right now.

More confusion, not enough reunions, after President Trump signs an executive order stopping the family separations he started. And he continues today to describe undocumented immigrants in mostly criminal terms.

Plus, 48 hours after President Trump's executive order, kids are still crying for mom and dad. How long will they remain apart?

Plus, heck of a job, Scottie? As thousands still suffer in Puerto Rico, the scandal-plagued EPA chief decides to pat his agency on the back with commemorative coins.

Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in today for Jake Tapper.

President Trump the afternoon is aiming more harsh rhetoric at undocumented immigrants, saying families of those killed by people in the country illegally had been permanently separated from their loved ones.

The president is venting his anger as we learn more about the confusion and chaos he himself has unleashed at the border, where turmoil in the president's policy is causing a lack of clear guidance about how to address undocumented immigrant families and the struggle to reunite children who have already been separated from their moms and dads.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me live at the White House.

And, Boris, the president was hardly subtle, referring to these families as permanently separated from their loved ones.


The president apparently trying to draw a comparison between these families and the thousands of children that have been separated from their parents as a result of this administration's policies.

He also repeated that faulty claim that we have heard before, that the United States' neighbors are putting their worst into a bin and sending them into our country.


SANCHEZ (voice-over): Moments ago, President Trump met with people who have lost loved ones at the hands of undocumented immigrants, as the White House tried to shift the focus of the immigration debate away from thousands of immigrant children separated from their parents.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word permanently being the word that you have to think about, permanently, because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens.

SANCHEZ: Trump used the occasion yet again to blame opponents.

TRUMP: Where is the condemnation of the Democrats' sanctuary cities that release violent criminals into our communities and then protect them?

SANCHEZ: And, building off a familiar refrain dating back to the first day of his campaign, Trump now suggesting immigrants entering the United States are more dangerous than U.S. citizens.

TRUMP: I always hear that, oh, no the population is safer than the people that live in the country. You have heard that, fellows, right? You have heard that. I hear it so much, and I say, is that possible? The answer is, it is just not true.

SANCHEZ: Border Patrol Union president Brandon Judd telling CNN the president's broad description does not match reality.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He makes it seem like almost of these people trying to come into the United States are killers or rapists or drug dealers.

BRANDON JUDD, PRESIDENT, BORDER PATROL UNION: No. If he's purposely trying to do that, then that is not true. The vast majority of the individuals that we encounter are very polite, very respectful individuals. It is about 20 percent that we deal with that have criminal records.

SANCHEZ: After a roller-coaster week of mixed messages from the White House, Republicans in Congress are still uncertain as to what is next.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN (R), COLORADO: What I would like is for the president to have the same message, the message that he -- when he talked to us, behind closed doors, vs. a message in terms of talking to the American people.

SANCHEZ: After saying there was no way he would sign an executive order ending family separation -- TRUMP: I can't do it through an executive order.

SANCHEZ: -- on Wednesday, he did just that and told Congress to follow suit.

TRUMP: We're also wanting to go through Congress. We will be going through Congress. We're working on a much more comprehensive bill.

SANCHEZ: But this morning, Trump appeared to dismiss the idea altogether, tweeting in part -- quote -- "Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration," leaving some House Republicans who have been working for weeks on a compromise immigration bill deflated.

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Game over. It takes the wind out of the sails in what might have been a fairly productive week even in terms of looking for a compromise. Without the president being out front, without the president having legislators' backs, there is no way they are going to take the risk that would inherent in a major reform bill.



SANCHEZ: Now, Dana, we have to point out, though the president has over and over again accused Democrats of politicizing this issue, if you read the rest of that tweet that we mentioned, it essentially reads as a call to action to his supporters to send a red wave to Congress during the November midterm elections -- Dana.

BASH: Boris, thank you for that report.

And I want to bring in our panel.

The president continued to sort of fly that red wave that he was -- the red flag, in hopes for a red wave this November today.

I want to talk more about that whole event he had today and just start with that idea of permanently separated. Kind of clever. Certainly not subtle, as I mentioned to Boris.

Let's just listen to it again.


TRUMP: These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones. The word permanently being the word that you have to think about, permanently, because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens.


BASH: Paul, you're a messaging guru. I know that this is the other side of the aisle for you and then some. But what do you think of what he's trying to do there? PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He knows what he's doing. He's taking this raw, real pain that these poor families are suffering, which is authentic, and he's politicizing it. Right?

It is monstrous to take these folks' pain and then to try to use it to divide America. It is true, as we saw from the guy from the Customs and Border Patrol agents union, that the immigrant population commits fewer crimes.

Why doesn't he have a meeting with families of people who have been killed by right-wing white nationalist extremists? The ADL, the Anti- Defamation League, says 71 percent of al the extremist murders that have occurred in America in the last decade have been committed by white nationalist neo-Nazis.

That is a real problem. That pain is real. But that shouldn't be exploited for politics either. And he doesn't seem very interested in folks who have been murdered by the extreme right.

I don't know that he's ever met with the family of Heather Heyer, who was allegedly -- she was murdered, but she was -- allegedly by right- wing extremists in Charlottesville. So that is the kind of politicization that is really monstrous.

BASH: Yes.

This is clearly a political event. It doesn't take away from these families' pain.

BEGALA: Right.

BASH: It was heart-wrenching to watch this event.

Having said that, what Paul said is right. According to multiple studies, Mary Katharine, there is actually less violent crime in states that have the most undocumented immigrants.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that is true. And this is classic Trump, to take something and politicize it in sort of the most aggressive way possible.

But there's also a reason those families are with him and standing with him. And that is because they do feel an empathy gap, and that people don't give their pain a lot of credit because it is uncomfortable to talk about and because I think it is not statistically representative and it's not great for crafting policy.

But their pain is real and it does point out sometimes real gaps in our immigration system, which is a disaster and why we might need a comprehensive, smart legislative solution, but whatever.

For instance, some of these people have been deported several times and come back to commit these crimes. So I think that is a problem worth pointing out. This is not the way that I would ever do it.

BASH: Right. HAM: And I don't think that it -- much like emotionalism on the other

side, I don't think it gets us closer to an answer.

BASH: But for Donald Trump this is familiar emotionalism.

HAM: Oh, yes.

BASH: This is how he started the day he came down that escalator. This is how he started his campaign. Some of those faces look familiar from the campaign, from the campaign trail, and we know that it works.

But let's focus on what is happening on the border right now.

Jackie, CNN obtained e-mails saying essentially that the Customs and Border Protection agency has stopped, has stopped following the Trump administration zero tolerance policy that led to the separation.

So is this the new policy, or is it still unclear what the new policy is?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think anyone knows at this point, which is -- and I think the most concerning thing is, is these children, they don't know how they are going to be reunited with their parents yet. There is no plan.

There is no -- they haven't released anything that shows that these -- that there is any sort of infrastructure, anything to start putting these families back together.

Whether or not they are going to be in detention or in some other capacity, there is no plan.

And just really quickly, going back to that event, this is what Donald Trump does. He pits people against each other. And right now, it is so cynical, it is so cynical to take these people who have gone through unimaginable pain and pit them against children who have been separated from their parents.

It is just the depth of cynicism on the part of the president, and just politicize --

BASH: And, meanwhile, the whole question is, despite the fact that he signed this executive order yesterday, we still don't know how these families are going to be reunited.


BASH: And it just -- Phil Mudd, you were in government for --



BASH: A while.



BASH: For a while.

And, look, just I have never been in government, but I have certainly covered it enough, administrations in Congress and elsewhere, to know that when you have this kind of policy change, it takes months and months and months to get it right, to coordinate the agencies, to think 12 steps ahead, like, for example, when you separate children from their parents, what is going to happen.

Never mind the fact that, if you look at this White House right now, the person who probably would have coordinated this at the White House level, Tom Bossert, who was the homeland security czar, he's not there anymore. He was let go and he wasn't replaced.

Now, this is also a White House where the president does something like this and then everybody has to scramble to find the policy to fit the decision. But that is part of the problem here, right?

MUDD: Sure.

You look at this as a high-end policy problem. As a guy who escaped government some time ago, I look at it and say, this is when you need a pro in the White House. Think of all the implications of whether families are separate or together.

Think of all of the implications that you have got to think through. Let me give you a handful I would be thinking of. If families are together for months, do we vaccinate them? We start providing schooling? What about health, medical, dental care? What about somebody who has got a longstanding issue with, for example, incurable cancer? What are you going to do with that person?

What if we -- you have a mother who is pregnant in that camp? What are you going to do with that person? So, you think about all the implications regarding just that small sliver of health and education, and you realize why you need people in the White House and elsewhere to say, man, once we implement this, we better have about 200 pages of implementation documentation coming behind it. It is complicated.

BEGALA: And the winners here -- there are winners in this policy -- and it is the drug cartels. It's the gangbangers. It's the people that we all agree we have got to stop. It is people who murdered the family members of these poor folks who spoke out today.

Mary Katharine is right. There is a problem. And there is a real problem.


KUCINICH: And don't forget private prison contractors. They are doing pretty well too.

BEGALA: Right. So we divert all of our resources to 5-year-olds. And the cartels

know what they are doing. I guarantee you they are exploiting now this to make it easier to get gangbangers in, because we're so distracted and diverted all of our resources to trying to find 2,300 children that we have separated.

BASH: Jackie, you mentioned the political ploy that we saw at the White House. To be fair, Democrats are stirring the political pot here.


BASH: And I want to show an example of this from the House floor, Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He played audio that was obtained by ProPublica of 10 Central American children who had been separated from their parents.


REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: What must that sound like?



BASH: He's playing that.

And just what happened on the floor was that the Republican chair at the time was gaveling, trying to get him to stop, take away the sort of rules and the protocol of the House floor. Democrats know what they are doing here, too.

KUCINICH: That's not serious, what he did.

That is like -- a serious person doesn't do that. That is a very serious audio. It is heart-wrenching to listen to. And to politicize that -- we see people on the House floor with those silly signs all the time.

That is not helpful. That is not helpful to those kids. That doesn't add anything to the debate.


BASH: Democratic strategist, bad move?

BEGALA: Yes, because it is already in the public record.

Thank God ProPublica got that story and got that audio. It is an outrage. And I think we're -- what they ought to be talking about on the House floor that members of the House of Representatives, members of the Senate have been turned away from federal facilities?

Are you kidding? We, the people, pay for those facilities. Those folks work for us. And the fact that Congress is not in there inspecting those facilities is an outrage. That is what I think Congress, people on both sides --


BASH: Well, it is starting. It is starting. Congress is getting down there, as is CNN.

And I want you to stick around, because CNN is gathering information and really captured the moment, if you look at this emotional, emotional moment, a 7-year-old boy from Guatemala reunited with his mother.

But reunions may be far away for many others.

Stay with us.


[16:18:17] BASH: One mother from Honduras has not been able to speak to her daughter in over a week. It's cruel she says. Another mother says she is desperate to see her 15-year-old son again.

Their stories are more powerful than numbers but the new numbers are shocking. Almost 2,500 children are in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. Nearly 500 are age 5 and under.

Let me repeat that. Nearly 500 children ages five and under are not with their parents. The other 2,000 are between the ages of 6 and 12. And there is still no clear plan from the government on how to reunite these families.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins us from the Port Isabel Detention Center in Texas.

And, Nick, once the government does figure that out, that center might be the place families are reunited, right?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dana. And it could be a painstakingly slow process. In fact, two immigration attorneys that just left inside that facility told me they're told by ICE officials inside that it could be up to a month before that reunification process begins. I talked to an ICE official to verify that and they said they haven't been hearing that number officially but said they wouldn't be surprised if it took that long.


VALENCIA (voice-over): This 7-year-old boy from Guatemala was finally embraced by his mother in a Baltimore airport this morning after weeks apart. They're just one family lucky enough to reunite after being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This is the only son I have and I'm never going to be separated from him again.

VALENCIA: U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it has unified approximately 500 children, over 15 percent, with their parents who had been referred for prosecution for illegal entry.

[16:20:04] By that math, more than 3,300 immigrant children have been separated in the U.S. and a vast majority of them are still wondering when they will see their loved ones again.

Cindy Madrid and her 6-year-old daughter Allison are part of that group.

CHILD: I want to go with my aunt --

VALENCIA: Allison is one of the tiny voices recorded by "ProPublica" that sparked national outrage this past week. Also this week, CNN spoke with her mother who is currently being held at this detention facility in Port Isabel, Texas. Allison is reported to be more than 1,200 miles away at a children's center in Phoenix, Arizona.

CINDY MADRID, SEPARATED FROM HER DAUGHTER: Please help me reunite with my daughter soon. I'm desperate. I want to see her.

It's maddening because at the every moment I ask myself, how is she? Has she eaten?

VALENCIA: During a report by "ProPublica", Allison phoned her aunt who did not want to be seen on camera.

AUNT: Have they said anything about your mom to you there?

VALENCIA: In a new suit filed in a Washington, D.C. court, three undocumented grants are demanding immediate access to basic information about their children's whereabouts and wellbeing.

According to the document, one mother separated from her 9-year-old son last month has only been able to speak with him for a total of 15 minutes.

I try to tell him everything will be OK and that I'll see him soon, but the truth is I don't know what will happen with us, she says.

For now, the Trump administration has few concrete answers.


VALENCIA: Behind me in this Port Isabel Detention Center, there are 1,700 detainees, a mixture of both men and women, and we're told by immigration attorneys who have visited their clients inside, most of them have no idea zero tolerance has ended. In fact, some of them have found out from a Spanish language television inside.

It is shocking, Dana, to consider that they're not being told more by the officials inside.

BASH: That is unbelievable that they haven't even been told about the president's change in policy as of yesterday.

Nick Valencia, thank you for that report. And is it easier for people coming out of jail to get their wallets

back than it is for parents at the border to be reunited with their kids? That story next.


[16:26:15] BASH: In our politics lead, we're hearing about some emotional reunions of families separated at the border, so many more though are waiting and some families don't even know where to begin.

I want to bring back my panel.

And, Mary Katharine, when you see these images and you hear these sounds, it's hard to imagine being part of the people who are trying to implement this policy which is herky-jerky at best.

HAM: Right. And, look, there are stipulated there are many good people at work trying to implement this, but it's very unclear what they should do. The federal government is not great at doing things and not great at doing things quickly or efficiently, and this is a mistake made that overwhelmed an already overwhelmed system. Immigration judges couldn't process people fast enough on the border as it was and there was no plan for how to deal with that capacity.

Take all of the moral concerns off the table. There was no plan for how to deal with the new capacity in the new flood of people. So, trying to correct that will take some time.

BASH: And now hearing from Nick Valencia at the border, the people inside who have been separated from their -- the parents who've been separated from their kids don't even know that the policy is changed.

MUDD: I mean, we're talking at the break about why this is. Mary Katharine was making a good point. I mean, one of the issues is what is the government going to tell them happens next. I'm sitting here with my old government hat on saying, OK, if you go in there and say, we're going to change the policy, if I'm sitting there in that facility, I'm going to say, OK, well, where do we go now?

And I'm guessing the person who is talking to 'em doesn't have a clue and the next problem is, what if the president says something different tomorrow and you're whiplashed saying, sorry, we decided to move you to a new facility and we're not going to do that. I think when the president moves this quickly, the ability of a slow-moving bureaucracy -- and I was one of them, that horrible word, bureaucrat, to keep up with the president when he moves this quickly, they just can't do it.

BASH: Oh, you're not a bureaucrat.

MUDD: I'm a reformed bureaucrat.


BEGALA: He's not simply moving quickly. He's moving stupidly and cruelly. He's following his whims and his impulses and his impetus, which is invariably cruel devices.

BASH: Right. Well, to be fair, the slice of a whim yesterday morning when he signed the executive order certainly threw even more chaos into a chaotic process because executive order wasn't clear and all of these agencies are trying to figure out what it means and so on and so forth. But that was a slice from my reporting and others of him looking at the images and saying, OK, this didn't go the way we thought. We've got to figure out a way to stop it for now, at least.

BEGALA: Well, I think it's -- the coverage didn't go -- it just went exactly the way they wanted it.

BASH: That's fair.

BEGALA: I believe they are trying -- to use these kids' pain and these parents' pain to send a message to central Americans, deterrence and this is what the attorney general said when he rolled out this policy.

Now, you know, we could put land mines in the border area, and that would be a deterrent, but there's things Americans don't do because we have American values, and this president betrayed those values. And I like that the government is slow and bureaucratic. They're supposed -- Congress has been broken for many years. Executive action is working pretty well until now, this president --

HAM: You know what protects from executive whim and sometimes cruelty and bad decision is legislative solution.

BEGALA: Absolutely.

HAM: They're durable. And what's the word? Democratic.


HAM: That is a thing we're supposed to be able to do. And Obama ramped up a lot using executive action, it left this precedent where Trump can do it for his whims which people suddenly realize, oh, I don't like that.

KUCINICH: I'm old enough to remember when Obama was an imperial president for his using his executive --

BEGALA: But he had a process.

BASH: He did.

BEGALA: He had a process that ran these things through.


BEGALA: No, he used the powers that are delegated to him by the Founders and by the people. This guy is using those powers but using it in a capricious and cruel way.

BEGALA: But they are both Obama and Trump are benefiting from a Congress that can't get out of their own way.

HAM: Who doesn't want to? They don't want to do their job.

BEGALA: They don't want to legislative. They don't want to do their job. And, you know, you had this crisis.