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Trump Proposes Sweeping Immigration Policy Changes; McAleenan Testifies on Capitol Hill; Attempted Coup Underway in Venezuela; Military Vehicle Runs Over Protesters in Caracas. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired April 30, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:34:33] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump overnight proposing sweeping changes to immigration policy, specifically rules in terms of requesting asylum in the United States.

This comes as the new acting secretary of Homeland Security is on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress for the first time since taking over. Very quickly, he started facing very tough questions about the administration's zero-tolerance policy that led to so many family separations at the border. Kevin McAleenan said recently that that policy wasn't worth it, but his boss, President Trump, as we know, threatened to bring the policy back.

Here's what the secretary said just this morning.


[11:35:12] KEVIN MCALEENAN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The conditions where a child might be separated from a lawful parent or guardian at this time are extraordinarily rare. It's happening for less than two per day, even though we have 1600-plus families arriving per day. And they're for the safety and welfare of the child. So it's being done very carefully, in extraordinarily rare circumstances. That's the only time the separation occurs.


BOLDUAN: The operative word in what you're hearing from the secretary is "at this time." Because that's not what was happening before.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has been keeping a close eye on all of this, this morning.

Jessica, what else is the secretary saying?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really, Kate, McAleenan is doubling down on the urgency of the situation, what he's calling a crisis at the border. And he started off with the numbers here, 103,000 migrants cross the southern border in the month of March alone. That was the largest single month total in more than a decade. And McAleenan put it bluntly. He said, "The system is full and all resources are well beyond capacity." So here's what DHS is proposing. This week, the agency plans to make

a supplemental budget request from Congress because McAleenan says they're set to run out of funds before the end of the fiscal year in just a few months. McAleenan said that any of those new funds appropriated by Congress will go to humanitarian needs, like migrant processing facilities, also increased detention capacity. And interestingly here, he also foreshadowed a new legislative proposal that could be sent to Congress to address what he calls the drivers of the humanitarian crisis.

It's clear here, Kate, the administration is really amping up its plans when it comes to addressing immigration and the flood of migrants.

BOLDUAN: Also, then, the changes with the asylum rules, what do they mean?

SCHNEIDER: Right. These are proposed changes from the president. He wants the attorney general and DHS Acting Secretary McAleenan to sign off on it in 90 days. It would make asylum claims a lot more difficult. The president wants all asylum applications adjudicated in 180 days. That's a very tall order, given the fact that there's already a months or years' long backlog with the limited amount of immigration judges. And then the president wants to institute a fee for asylum applications. Currently, it's free to apply for asylum.

The administration, in making these proposals, are citing the surge in numbers here. Apparently, the number of migrants claiming credible fear when applying for asylum, Kate, the administration says it has increased 2,000 percent. They see not only the migrant surge approaching record numbers but also those applying for asylum as well -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Jessica, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Joining me now is Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney battling the Trump administration in court over family separations at the border on behalf of the ACLU.

Lee, thank you again for being here.


BOLDUAN: I want to talk about where we are with the family separations in a second. What is your reaction when you hear this proposal on changes to asylum? What does it mean for the people you're working with?

GELERNT: Right. I think it's just another attack on asylum seekers. People need to remember a few things. First of all, people need to remember the history. Right now, it's Central Americans who need our help, but it's been other groups in the past. It's a very dangerous road to stop helping people seeking refuge. These specific proposals are very dangerous. People fleeing with the most serious crimes are often the ones who will be most destitute, leave quickly, and then to get here and say, well, we might look at your asylum claim, but you have to pony up the money.

The other thing is asylum seekers want to move quickly because they want to move out of this limbo status, but you can't have a hard deadline without allocating sufficient resources to the system. They're putting all their resources into these political maneuvers, saying we're cracking down, but no resources into more asylum officers, more immigration judges. That's the real crisis is the administration is not allocating resources.

BOLDUAN: On the asylum judges, I have heard that from left, right, and center.

GELERNT: That's right.

BOLDUAN: That's where -- I mean, if you want to speed this up, they are overtasked. That's where to put it.

GELERNT: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: On family separations, we heard there from the acting secretary of Homeland Security, and he had said, in a recent interview, he said he does not think family separations are worth it, he doesn't think it's on the table anymore. But that's in contrast to -- the president has threatened to bring that policy back.


BOLDUAN: What -- I mean, do you take comfort in hearing that from the acting secretary?

GELERNT: You know, we will take comfort for now. But we will obviously be closely monitoring. I think a few points are important for people to know. The government reported 3,000 separations. That's an astronomical number of families separated. Now, we just find out there could be potentially thousands more. The government said, we don't want to try to find them. The court said, you have to find them. The government said it will take two years to find them. The court said, no, no, no, you find them --


[11:40:04] BOLDUAN: Right. I want to make sure people --


BOLDUAN: -- don't forget what you're pointing out right now. We knew about this, 3,000 children were separated from families, and then it came up there were thousands and thousands more they had not acknowledged, they didn't even maybe know or did not acknowledge were also separated in the system. They want two years to even identify them, not getting them back with their families, and the judge who has been working with you all on this now says six months.

GELERNT: Six months, and on a rolling basis. He expects most of them to be given to us well before six months.


GELERNT: Right. We will be monitoring. And the judge importantly said, I want to be on the phone with the head person at HHS, doing this every 21 days.

The other thing I would push back on a little from the clip is family separations are occurring. They're not so rare. Hundreds and hundreds. And when they're saying, well, it's only in individual cases where the child is at danger, we're seeing people separated for past traffic convictions or illegal entry. Not violent felonies, not something that would suggest the parent is a danger to the child. We're very concerned with ongoing separations, not just the past ones.


GELERNT: We will be back in court on that as well.

BOLDUAN: You're never going to leave court, the way this is turning out.

Real quick, do you have a number yet? Has the government given you a number -- every child is a number. Do you have what the thousands is that they're going to be trying to identify?

GELERNT: No, and when I cross-examined them on the stand last week, they candidly admitted they have no idea.



BOLDUAN: I don't --

GELERNT: That's why we're going to undertake this process and every case has to be reviewed to see if there's been separation. They have no idea how many were separated.

BOLDUAN: Even if they all need to be sent back to their home countries and deported with their parents, they need to be identified.

GELERNT: For sure.


GELERNT: For a lot of reasons, practical and historical.

BOLDUAN: Lee, thank you.

GELERNT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Please come back on.

GELERNT: Absolutely. Thanks for covering this story.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it, Lee. Coming up for us, Attorney General Bill Barr is still threatening to

skip a high-profile hearing on the Mueller report. Will he show up? Will he skip? Or will lawmakers be faced with an empty seat and then also sending him a subpoena? We'll discuss in a second.


[11:46:48] BOLDUAN: Welcome back. I want to get back down to the streets of Venezuela where, as we have been discussing throughout the hour, there's been breaking news. Protests breaking out. An attempted coup under way by opposition leader, Juan Guaido. We have been watching opposition protesters in the streets since early this morning. And just a moment ago, we saw violence breaking out in the streets, as you're going to see.

I'm going to warn you, this is very disturbing.

A military vehicle running into the crowd, not only running into protesters but running over, it appears running over some protesters in the streets of Caracas. That is playing out as we speak, and that just happened as we were speaking.

I think we're trying to get connected with a reporter on the ground, Stefano Pozzebon. He's been watching this.

Now I'm seeing fire. They have now attempted to light one of the military vehicles on fire. As we're watching the protests, as we have been discussing, this has been a tense situation throughout the morning. The question has been all along, what level, how violent would these protests be. Juan Guaido has called for their position and their demonstrations to remain peaceful, as he has said they called for, and their position has been all along. What we're seeing right now, though, is anything but peaceful. Military -- looks like a line -- with the graininess of the video, it's hard to see. But what it looks like is a line of military on one end of the street, protesters on the other. For some reason, what looks like these military vehicles, whatever reason, they were provoked or not, going into the crowd. We can probably rack it back up and show you what happened a moment ago.

I believe we have reconnected with Stefano Pozzebon.

Stefano, you're in Caracas as well. This is what we're watching, this really disturbing video is playing out at another section of the city. But what we just saw was a military vehicle running into the crowd of protesters and appearing to run over some of the protesters there in Caracas.

STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, definitely tense moments here (INAUDIBLE). Tense moments from the early hours of today. Just a few hours ago, we have seen a gunfight between military forces loyal to embattled President Nicolas Maduro and those military forces loyal to Juan Guaido and the opposition. Right now, we are - (INAUDIBLE). And -- (INAUDIBLE) -- this morning.

BOLDUAN: As we can tell, for all of our viewers, as you can understand, with the chaotic situation, cars honking, everything that's going on around Stefano, it can be difficult to keep the connection.

[11:50:00] But we're looking at -- I mean, I can see, as we've been watching this video, this shot coming in all morning, this is escalating even more than what we've about seeing throughout this hour. A much bigger police presence has been building. And you can see water cannons coming from one top of one of these military vehicles. Looks like they are backing up to get back, you know, in formation as the protesters have been continuing to approach them.

Guys, let me know when you have Clarissa Ward or any of our other reporters on the line so we can get them in. Also, if we can re-rack to show that moment when -- let's replay this for you, everybody.




BOLDUAN: And, look, we don't know -- we don't know what was happening before -- before this moment, but we do know that as the protesters are there, the police are on the other side of that, what looks like a highway, and that military vehicle very clearly driving straight into this crowd of protesters.

I think Clarissa Ward, our chief international correspondent, is back up with me right now.

Clarissa, we know that these protests can be tense. We know that there's always a potential of violence. That's always horrible to see.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And we have seen the use of tear gas. We have seen water cannons being used in Venezuela throughout the course of this protest movement. But there's no question, Kate, that what we're seeing today is a very meaningful escalation. I mean, you can really sense the tension hearing the reports from CNN's own Stefano Pozzebon on the streets there, who has actually seen, you know, live ammunition, gunfire being used.

Now you're seeing -- I'm just looking down at the pictures as I talk to you on the screen, those images of military vehicles. There's clearly a sense of -- it's chaotic, and because it's chaotic, it's very difficult to get a clear picture of exactly what is happening. Who in the military has defected to join the side of Guaido? Have any generals committed to the movement of Guaido? What does this mean going forward? Where is Maduro? Why haven't we heard more from him the president, Nicolas Maduro? He's put out a tweet saying, "Nerves of steel. We will win." But at this point, people would expect to see something from him if, indeed, as he says, you know, this is -- that the situation is in control. People would expect to see something from Maduro, a televised statement or something speaking to his claim that he still has control over the people. Another wild card, Kate, that people will be wanting to know is where

do the Russians stand. When will they weigh in? Of course, Nicolas Maduro's most important outside backer is Russia. Russia has committed an enormous financial lifeline to the Maduro government and to his cronies. And as we've seen before, they have taken a very pro- Maduro stance, but are they willing as the pressure ratchets up as potentially more military elements defect and join Guaido, how will that affect their calculation? Traditionally, when we've seen Russia backing its allies, whether here in Venezuela or most noticeably in Syria with Bashar al Assad, they are willing to go that extra mile, and they are willing to stay the course. That raises the question of, what will the U.S. do -- Kate?


WARD: How serious is the U.S. about -- how committed are they to Guaido? We've heard President Trump say over and over again that military force is an option, that it is on the table, that the U.S. does stand by its commitment to Guaido, who they have recognized as the lawful president of Venezuela, along with, by the way, more than 50 other countries. This is definitely an infliction point.


WARD: And the question is, has it reached a critical mass? Has it reached a tipping point? And what are the outside players willing to do to ensure that their man survives -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's exactly right. As we were discussing earlier in the hour, the momentum here could be shifting moment to moment, and where the momentum lies -- oh, my gosh. There's the video again as we're looking at the military vehicle running into the crowd. It looks like running over at least one protester, as you see people gathering around trying to carry someone away. And then you're going to see another military vehicle come through and the protesters trying to light it on fire.

[11:54:56] Looking down -- as you were saying, Clarissa, as we were watching this violence breaking out. Once again, this happened moments ago. I was just looking down and saw that leaders here in the United States, not only from the administration but over on Capitol Hill, they are watching this very closely.

Marco Rubio has been speaking out, been a very forceful critic of the Maduro presidency and just wrote about this very incident: "The entire world watched a national guard vehicle ram into a crowd of protesters," Marco Rubio writes. "How far will leaders of the military allow this assault on their own people to go in Venezuela?"

So we know it's not only being watched, it's being watched everywhere, what you and I are watching together play out on the streets of Venezuela.

We're going to continue watching this. We'll have much more of this breaking news. Stick with us, guys, after this.