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At This Hour

Source: El Paso Border Encounters Top 1,500 Migrants A Day; Study: Mental Health-Related ER Visits Rising Among Children; China To Scrap Quarantine Requirements For Inbound Travelers. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 27, 2022 - 11:30   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, hundreds of migrants are crowding El Paso's shelters and streets. A source telling CNN, border agents are still encountering over 1500 migrants a day despite the freezing weather. And on the Mexico side, 22,000 migrants are waiting for their chance to cross. The Texas National Guard says they've put up two miles of border fencing near El Paso, and more is coming.

CNN's Rosa Flores Joining us now from El Paso. Rosa, as you know very well, this does not happen overnight. You're seeing a humanitarian crisis, right? Describe what people have been telling you.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm here with a couple from Venezuela who have been sharing their story with me. This is Elvin and this is Caroline. You can come over, Caroline. His wife. They're both here from Venezuela. And, Elvin, could you tell me why you left Venezuela? (Speaking Foreign Language)


FLORES: (Speaking Foreign Language). He's saying that the economic situation in Venezuela is very difficult. It's difficult to eat. (Speaking Foreign Language). You didn't have money for food.

ARDILES: (Speaking Foreign Language)

FLORES: (Speaking Foreign Language). He says that some people earn $10, $15 a month. (Speaking Foreign Language).

ARDILES: (Speaking Foreign Language)

FLORES: And that they can't live with that. Now, he's here with his four children. There's three girls here. And they were telling me just moments ago about their dangerous journey. They say that they still have burns on their faces because of the cold frigid temperatures and that they had tried crossing over about 15 days ago with their children but they were returned under Title 42 and so they decided to try again. And now, they actually made it here to El Paso.

[11:35:01] (Speaking Foreign Language). Why did you decide to try again once you were returned?

ARDILES: (Speaking Foreign Language)

FLORES: He says that he sold everything in Venezuela to make the journey with his family and that his American dream is to stay here and recover, having a home again, Amara.

WALKER: Yes, they all have a story. Rosa Flores, thank you for bringing us one of those. Let's talk to John Sandweg now. He was the former acting director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama. John, welcome. About 22,000 migrants who were saying at the top of this are waiting on the Mexico side of the border presumably waiting for Title 42 to be lifted. Can the U.S. handle an influx of that magnitude?

JOHN SANDWEG, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, ICE: Amara, we're going to find out, I think, you know. Look, it's unclear what the court is going to do but as you noted, I think we can expect the court probably to lift Title 42 as soon as today.

I suspect there's tens of thousands more beyond just the 22,000 who've been queued up. A lot of people like the folks who were just interviewed who had previously tried to cross were pushed back into Mexico and have been biding their time.

So, I think in the immediate fall of Title 42, it's going to be an incredible logistical challenge for the administration just to process these people and deal with a humanitarian crisis. It is -- it is already with Title 42 very difficult for the administration to keep up with the influx of numbers that I think we should all expect following the -- you know, the end of 42, it's going to be even harder.

And I think the key for the administration is to do it in an orderly way and avoid this becoming a political crisis very quickly.

WALKER: And would you mind please taking a step back and telling us how Title 42 has been working, how effective it has been? And for those of you who don't know, Title 42 was a set of emergency powers from the Trump administration to prevent the spread of COVID and it basically allowed border officials to quickly turn away migrants.

As we are seeing, not everyone is turned away. And I've heard the analogy that it's like putting a band-aid on a huge flood. How has Title 42 been working, especially -- just kind of give us a picture, you know, when migrants arrived at the border, what's happening?

SANDWEG: Yes, sure. Well, the underlying source of all of these problems is we've never adequately funded our asylum system to handle the claims. But another long-standing U.S. law, if you enter the United States, even illegally, and you get two feet on American soil, and you make a credible claim to asylum, you cannot be deported or removed, unless and until an immigration judge determines your claim is not credible or not, doesn't meet the standard for asylum. So, the problem had been very quickly that word got out that, you

know, we -- a surge of claims overwhelmed the system. So, the Trump administration was struggling with how to deal with this because under these long-standing laws, they couldn't deport these people until the court system discernment they didn't have any claim, and the court system was overwhelmed.

So, when the pandemic hit, Trump was able to use what's called Title 42, which is a public health authority to say, OK because of a public health crisis, the border is now closed. And even though you've now made it a credible asylum claim, we're still going to push you into Mexico until such time as a public health crisis is abated.

So, it is a band-aid, it's a tool that both the Biden administration continued because that allows them to take these asylum seekers who would otherwise be present in the United States until this overwhelmed immigration court system could deal with their case, and allows them to forcibly send them back to Mexico to wait until the pandemic ended. Because of litigation, and now looks like we're probably at the end of Title 42, and the question remains, does the administration have the plan to deal with its demise?

WALKER: Right. And it doesn't look like it does, right?

SANDWEG: Well, I think they have a short-term plan. I mean, certainly, they've been -- they've had been on notice. There's been a lot of pressure on them from progressive groups on the left to end Title 42, so I think they have a short-term plan to deal with the logistics. We'll see whether it's adequate in the coming days.

WALKER: What's the adequate to you?

SANDWEG: But the real question that they've -- well, I think just avoiding a humanitarian crisis. We saw some of this earlier about a year and a half ago where camps, large camps formed on the border in Texas. We saw some camps this week in El Paso already. I think the question for them is, can they orderly process these individuals?

I mean you're talking about tens of thousands a day, numbers that DHS was not built to handle. They need to process them, they need to do background checks on them, public health screening, get their fingerprints, make sure they're not wanted criminals, and then serve with the legal paperwork to initiate their case, and then probably get them out of the border area because there's such a strain on the local resources. That's adequate in the coming days. The real question is, what is the long-term plan?

WALKER: Right.

SANDWEG: And the real -- the question the matter is, frankly, that the majority of these people are probably in this country for the rest of their lives. We have 2 million backed-up cases and only 600 judges.


WALKER: Yes. SANDWEG: And I don't know that there's a credible plan to deal with the flood of new cases it's coming through. And I -- you know, and the lesson until we deal with that, I don't think there's a plan to stop people from coming up to the border.

WALKER: Yes. That's a vaccine issue. John Sandweg, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

SANDWEG: Thank you.

WALKER: All right, coming up. New alarming statistics on kids' ER visits and mental health.


WALKER: A CNN Health Alert. A new study shows an increasing number of kids are receiving emergency treatment for mental health-related issues. Many of those children are going to the ER multiple times because of inadequate care. CNN's Jacqueline Howard is live in Atlanta with the new research. Jacqueline, what does this study reveal?


JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Amara, I can tell you this study shows that mental health emergency department visits are on the rise, and some of those patients revisit the hospital within six months. So, we're looking at visits alone. And what the researchers did, they looked at more than 200,000 pediatric patients across 38 different hospitals. This is between the years 2015 to 2020.

And you see the findings here. The researchers saw mental health visits increase by 8 percent annually, and 13 percent of those patients revisited the emergency department within six months. Whereas, in comparison, all other emergency department visits increased by only 1.5 percent annually. So, that's what's concerning.

And some of the mental health visits were for self-harm and some parents brought in their children for aggressive behaviors. So, you see a wide range of mental health crises here. And the researchers say that this is an example of why we need to improve our mental health care services, improve staffing, and do a better job of identifying patients who may be at high risk of revisiting the hospital, Amara.

WALKER: Yes, exactly. Jacqueline Howard, thank you very much. And joining me now to talk about this more is CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. She's a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore and a contributing columnist for the Washington Post. She's also the author of the book, Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey In The Fight For Public Health.

Dr. Wen, always good to see you. So, what do you make of this? Why are we seeing this with kids going to the ER for mental health and then having to come back multiple times?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Amara, I'm an emergency physician and I can tell you that this is not something that's new for COVID. The problems with mental health existed long before COVID and unfortunately, has gotten worse since. So, what's happening is that there just isn't enough mental health treatment available, both inpatient treatment in hospitals and other settings and outpatient treatment in the community.

And so, what happens is then, parents are at their wit's end. They are really struggling with their children who may be depressed or anxious or maybe threatening self-harm or harm to others or may have aggressive behaviors. They're bringing them to the emergency department, really, because this is their last resort. But what's happening is in the ER, we, as the physicians don't have anywhere to send these patients.


WEN: These patients may be told to wait days, weeks, or even months for that treatment. They end up getting discharged. And then they have to come back because again, the parents are really desperate. So, ultimately, this is a problem of not having enough treatment access. And that's something that lawmakers have to fix.

It's a problem of not having enough healthcare workers. It's a problem of reimbursement for mental health providers. And we just are not treating mental health the same way that we treat physical health. Imagine if a child were coming in with a diabetes or a heart condition, they wouldn't be turned away in the way that they are turned away for a mental health crisis.

WALKER: Right. It's clearly not being prioritized. And it is a systemic issue with our health system. But what can parents do to make sure that their children do get the proper mental health treatment?

WEN: Well, ideally, every parent will have a pediatrician. And we'll also have the mental health specialists that they already see, in which case they can make a plan for what happens if behavior escalates to a certain level, this is where they go, or how can they get these needs met so that they don't have to go into the emergency department.

But the real problem is that there just aren't enough of these mental health specialists that parents can go to when they need assistance. And so, I think they can go to the -- there are federal hotlines that they can go to, there are websites that they can go to for further assistance but I would start by talking to your pediatrician to see what the options are for a referral.

WALKER: All right. And let's turn now to you know, the spike in respiratory illnesses that we continue to see this season. And you know, you -- we have a lot of public health experts who are getting increasingly worried that we're going to see an increase in respiratory infections come January. Is that something that concerns you as well?

WEN: It's certainly possible. And we should prepare for that possibility because we have a lot of people congregating. People are coming from all over the country going to large events and gatherings. And there are also a lot of viruses circulating. WALKER: Yes.

WEN: We were not hit hard by RSV and the flu for the last two years, and so we're hit hard by them now. And COVID cases are on the rise as well. So, I think we do need to prepare for a rise following the holidays.

And I want to also just hope that people will keep in mind the needs of the most vulnerable. And so, if you're going to be visiting vulnerable elderly people, make sure that you take a rapid test and do not go if you have symptoms.

WALKER: Yes, absolutely. Dr. Leana Wen, appreciate you as always. Thank you.

And still to come. China makes a big change for travelers coming into the country.



WALKER: China taking another major step away from its zero-COVID policy. Beijing announcing it will drop quarantine requirements for international arrivals beginning on January 8. Inbound travelers will only be required to show a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours.

Currently, passengers must quarantine for five days at a hotel followed by three days at home. This is the latest move China has made to loosen restrictions. The changes have led to a surge in COVID cases and put a major strain on the nation's hospitals.

All right, coming up. Trying to get home for five days, that's just one example of absolute chaos at airports across the country, as around 90 percent of U.S. flight cancellations are on Southwest Airlines.


But first, a quick programming note. Dionne Warwick is a music icon with 56 worldwide hits, six Grammy Awards, and one extraordinary legacy. She's -- she brings her exclusive story to CNN in the new film Don't Make Me Over, premiering New Year's Day at 9:00 p.m. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dionne Warwick, one of the great female singers of all time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dionne was the first African American woman to win a Grammy in the pop category.

DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER: The music I was singing is nothing like anything that any of them were singing. The legacy in my family? Music. Pure and simple. Music. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dionne Warwick: Don't Make Me Over. Premieres New Year's Day at 9:00 on CNN.