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GOP Governors Send Migrants To "Santuary States" Without Warning; Soon: Biden Speaks At Summit To Prevent Hate-Fueled Violence; Ukrainian Soldier's Tearful Reunion With Mother After Russians Flee. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2022 - 15:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It's the top of the hour on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you today.

Two border state Republicans are taking their immigration battle up north, but families and children are stuck in the middle. So before dawn, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered more than 100 migrants are being held in his state, be bused and then dropped off on Vice President Harris' doorstep at her home at the Naval Observatory. Gov. Abbott and Gov. Ducey of Arizona have already bused thousands of migrants to other states in recent weeks.

In last hour, the White House said these asylum seekers are being used as political pawns.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact that Fox News and not the Department of Homeland Security, the city or local NGOs were alerted about a plan to leave migrants, including children on the side of a busy D.C. street makes clear that this is just a cruel premeditated political stunt.


CAMEROTA: And then there's Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis. Today he's gloating that he chartered two flights carrying 50 migrants to Martha's Vineyard, among them seven families, including young children who reportedly arrived without any warning to local officials who then scrambled to set them up at a nearby church. But here's how Gov. DeSantis sees it.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA: We're not a sanctuary state and it's better to be able to go to a sanctuary jurisdiction. And yes, we will help facilitate that transport for you to be able to go to greener pastures. Every community in America should be sharing in the burdens. It shouldn't all fall on a handful of red states.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Rosa Flores joins us now from Houston. So Rosa, are Gov. DeSantis and Gov. Abbott coordinating on this?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to Gov. Abbott's press secretary, the two governors are having conversations about the busing strategy. But the press secretary says that Gov. Abbott had nothing to do with the planes to Martha's Vineyard.

Now, here is their statement. It says in part: "Our office has had conversations with Gov. DeSantis and his team about supporting our busing strategy to provide much needed relief to our overwhelmed and overrun border communities. Though we were not involved in these initial planes to Martha's Vineyard, we appreciate the support in responding to this national crisis and helping Texans."

Now, this statement goes on to say that they welcome the help from other governors as well who would like to take part on this strategy. Now, Alisyn and Victor, I'd like to point out that I've talked to many migrants along the border who are very grateful for these governors and also, as of late, the El Paso's - the City of El Paso, which is democratic-led for these politicians to get involved in helping them get to other parts of the country for free, is what - how the migrants call it. But you and I know that this is at the cost of the taxpayers in Arizona, in Texas, now apparently in Florida as well and as well - and as well as El Paso.

BLACKWELL: So Rosa, the migrants, what do we know about how they are able to travel right now? I'd imagine they have some dates of appointments to be in front of these immigration judges in Texas. If they're in Massachusetts, how do they get back to these appointments, these hearings?

FLORES: So it's the responsibility of the migrant to change their ICE check-in from Texas or from wherever their packet says to where they end up. So let me go through the process with you really quickly, because how this works on the border is the migrants turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents.

After that, they're taken to processing facilities or border patrol stations. Now, there's still Title 42 in place and so immigration agents do still and I've talked to migrants who have been swiftly returned to Mexico, now they don't return everybody.


I've talked to a lot of Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans who have been processed and allowed into the country. Now, where I meet them are respite centers. That's where Border Patrol drops them off at respite centers, at cities all along the U.S. border. I've talked to many of them in Texas. And from there, that's where they take their transportation to points across the country.

Now, Alisyn and Victor, what they have with them is a little packet. I've looked at that packet. What that packet says it has their names, their personal information and it also states that they have 60 days to check in with ICE, with immigration officials or they could be removed from this country. And it also says that they have up to a year to then seek asylum.

So between that point when they first enter the country in any sort of asylum hearing, it could be months, it could be years because of the backlog in this country, Alisyn and Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right. Rosa Flores with reporting there from Houston, thank you.

CAMEROTA: So the Massachusetts island, Martha's Vineyard, had virtually no warning before migrants began arriving. Local groups and businesses are quickly stepping up efforts now to help.

BLACKWELL: Joining us now someone leading one of those efforts, Karen Tewhey. She is the Director of Institutional Advancement for Harbor Homes of Martha's Vineyard. Karen, thank you for being with us. First, let me start with when these migrants first arrived, what did they know? What didn't they know about why they were there and what was happening?

KAREN TEWHEY, DIRECTOR OF INSTITUTION ADVANCEMENT, HARBOR HOMES OF MARTHA'S VINEYARD: As far as I know, they landed at Martha's Vineyard Airport. They took maybe a two-mile bus ride. It was supposedly directed toward Martha's Vineyard Community Services, which is our large behavioral health center on the island. And from there, they were shuffled across the street to a cafeteria in the local high school.

Translators were provided, so I know that they had information firsthand about where the guests thought they were going and what the purpose of it was. But when I saw the cluster of people in the cafeteria last evening, it was a couple of hours after they had landed, other than the kids being outside playing and stretching their legs finally, after a long plane ride, but the adults seem somewhat confused and tired and trying to explain to translators what little knowledge they had about the trip.

CAMEROTA: Karen, what happens now? What happens to these kids and adults? Where will they go to school? Where will they be housed?

TEWHEY: I think you're asking long-term questions. And Martha's Vineyard has had these guests for less than 24 hours and we are dealing with emergency shelter and food in short-term plans. So the house - the vineyard does have a homeless problem and so we have a pop up infrastructure that we do use in the winter for our chronically homeless individuals. We deal with about a hundred homeless individuals annually.

And so what we did was fall back on that infrastructure, so that the volunteers and staff who are usually at our winter shelter came forward to help out. We don't have a physical facility for the shelter, we rotated between multiple churches, the clergy on the island works incredibly collaboratively together all denominations, and they support homeless services and this group of people immediately.

So we use the same space that we use for the shelter and the person who coordinates a lot of the food programs on the island for low income individuals or our effort. In the past, he came forward and coordinated dinner and the meals today. Typically, we got a lot of support from all of the community agencies, including the restaurants to deal with the population and they are donating, restaurants are donating food as well.

BLACKWELL: So what you're telling me is that you're still in the triage phase of dealing with the people and you don't have the answers long-term. I understand that because you didn't know they were coming and what we heard from Karine Jean-Pierre at the White House is that what's outrageous here beyond these families being used as political pawns is that there was no advance notice to send these people on a plane and drop them off without advance notice was outrageous.


If you had received the advance notice that a plane provided by Florida is bringing migrants from Texas, would you have welcomed them? Would you have said, okay, bring them on.

TEWHEY: I see think we're going to welcome anybody who comes on the vineyard. We have an immigrant population here now. I think one of the - a couple of things would have been improved. Number one is the health of individuals. We've already had a couple of people present health issues and they're getting services.

But you don't want to send individuals on a long plane ride who aren't - who have a health issue and not alert the other end of the spectrum that they're arriving. So that would have been much more helpful.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Karen, thank you for explaining all this to us. We'll check back with you to see how everything is progressing and what the next steps are. We appreciate your time.

BLACKWELL: John Avlon is CNN Senior Political Analyst, Alyssa Farah Griffin is a CNN Political Commentator who served in the Trump White House as communications director.

John, why is Gov. DeSantis in this? I mean, his statement says that Florida is not a sanctuary state. Well, they weren't in Florida. He sent a plane to Texas to pick them up and take them to Martha's Vineyard.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because this is a stunt. This is a stunt designed to show how allegedly tough he is on illegal immigration as he explores a presidential run. It's a stunt that treats people as political pawns and it's a stunt where the cruelty is the point, because the trollishness owning the libs is the driving impulse here, within getting attention in the right wing ecosystem.

And so - he gave a speech the other day talking about faith and Christianity. I'm pretty sure he speak about the least of these about the obligations people have to the poor and the displaced that this wouldn't apply there. Also, all the rhetoric we've seen consistent from DeSantis and other Republicans about refugees from the Maduro regime, that failed leftist dictatorship, these people are seeking asylum from, treating them as political pawns instead.

CAMEROTA: Alyssa, I wonder where Gov. DeSantis got the idea. Some people have said that it seems eerily similar to something that Tucker Carlson suggested a few weeks ago on his show. Here's that moment.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEW HOST: So you probably imagine Edgartown is pretty diverse. I mean, the Obamas live on the island right now. In fact, we checked at last count, Edgartown is 95.7 percent white. They are begging for more diversity. Why not send migrants there in huge numbers?


CAMEROTA: Is Gov. DeSantis taking marching orders from cable news host?

GRIFFIN: Well, also Tucker Carlson is saying this from his entirely white community in Maine, but neither here nor there. I would say compassionate conservatism has been replaced with owning the libs. This is - and by the way, Republicans have a very legitimate point. This past weekend, Vice President Harris said the border is secured. It's clearly not when you have 2 million crossings by the end of September. We're using human beings as political pawns.

And the thing that struck me the most about this is Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, who is a Republican--


GRIFFIN: --the most popular governor in the country, if he got a call saying we can't house these people, figure something out, he'd get it done. He's a very effective governor. But he wanted the surprise, they wanted the chaos. They wanted individuals with children to arrive. And, by the way, one of the most expensive islands in the country and then just try to fend for themselves with no help. It's terrible politics.

And what I would warn Gov. DeSantis who I know I work for in the House, you have a Cuban population, a Venezuelan, a Nicaraguan population who they see this and they see how you're treating people that look like them that sound like them that went through their struggle and it's heartless. That is not good politics for them.

BLACKWELL: This could backfire.

AVLON: I actually think that's an important point. There was a press conference today in Miami about members of the Venezuelan community. Remember there are 240,000 in Florida right now, saying that, look, those of us who are refugees, in effect, from these sort of leftist dictatorships that we were told by Republicans, particularly Gov. DeSantis, that we've got your back, that we understand, we care about this community. But they're seeing members of their own community being treated with a degree of contempt treated as political pawns and I think this could have an unintended consequence.

BLACKWELL: It's crucial in the Republican primary.

GRIFFIN: Well, and it's also important to know this is more related to Governor Abbott, but Texas receives significant federal funding because it is a border state. So to deal with this population, it's not to say it's not overrun, El Paso right now has over a thousand migrants that are living in squalid conditions. It's a problem we have to address, but the way to do it isn't scoring cheap political point.

CAMEROTA: Well, but on that point, is it fair - I mean, we forget about the political stunt, if you can take out the cruelty of using human beings as political pawns, Texas sounds like they're saying we need help. We have 200,000 people, migrants crossing the border every month. Massachusetts, can you help us out?


Now, they're not going about it the right way, but is it fair to ask other states to shoulder this burden, because that's not what's, the way it's happening right now.

GRIFFIN: I think that it is and I actually think the woman you had on before, Karen, is an example of the best of America. Somebody who's like, I'm going to step up, I'm going to volunteer to help these people. I certainly think if border states said, please help. There are governors in this country who would step up. I think Gov. Baker would.

BLACKWELL: Yes. You just can't drop them off on a tarmac in the middle of the morning. All right. Stay with us, because we've got more to talk about.

CAMEROTA: This morning, President Biden praised the tentative agreement between union and rail leaders.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This agreement is a big win for America and for both in my view. Together, we reached an agreement, you reached an agreement that will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruptions to our economy. And I'm grateful, grateful for members of administration who worked tirelessly on both sides to help get this done.


CAMEROTA: So this averted a nationwide rail strike that could have been disastrous for the economy.

BLACKWELL: The White House brokered the marathon talks between the two sides and announced the tentative deal in the early hours this morning. CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House. So the President is said to have been instrumental in getting this deal finalized. At what point did he come in and what did he do?

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It is really difficult to overstate how important it was for both this President and this White House to avert this rail strike. And in the past few days, we really saw every part of the negotiations intensify. And that included, as you noted, President Biden himself getting involved in recent days, really picking up the phone himself and calling some of these key negotiators.

And if you take yesterday as an example, too, he spent the entire day at the Detroit Auto Show. And then when he got back to Washington and the White House in the evening, he again called into this meeting that ended up being some 20 hours at the Labor Department to try to get everyone past this impasse.

Now, in the end, what we had was this tentative deal that struck some compromises on some major issues, including pay increases and back pay, dealing with working conditions and scheduling rules. And I think it was clear that every party involved at the end of the day really very much acknowledged that the economic consequences of a potential strike would have been incredibly disastrous, very disruptive for supply chain issues. And certainly the last thing that this White House wanted as it is still fighting with the stubbornly high inflation and a volatile and sometimes fragile economic recovery.

Now, I should note, we are going to see the President speak in just a little bit at a conference at the White House describing as fighting the effects of hate fueled violence on our democracy and public safety. This is where we should expect to hear him discuss a little bit some of the actions that different agencies are taking on this front. We'll have to see what exactly those details are. But I don't have to tell you that this general theme of fighting threats to democracy that, of course, has become an increasingly big issue for this president, who, of course, ran on this issue as well back in 2020.

BLACKWELL: All right. MJ Lee, thank you.

CAMEROTA: John and Alyssa are back with us right now.

John, do you get political credit for averting a crisis that nobody knew was a crisis at all? I mean, this is great that we didn't have a rail strike, but nobody felt the fear of a rail strike which was averted.

AVLON: Well, folks were beginning to, but you make an important point, a lot of the presidency is actually the things that don't happen on your watch because of the actions you take sometimes behind the scenes and I think it's particularly true with Biden. This strike, which was looming, would have - could have been disastrous, deepening stagflation, having impacts on inflation.

CAMEROTA: Supply chain.

AVLON: It would have been such a slap in the face to Amtrak Joe. But what Biden did behind the scenes, and you see this consistently, is he's working the phones. He's calling the players. He's not inserting himself in the center of the crisis during the negotiations. He's not trying to make himself the story. But after the fact, you hear that he actually was playing an active role. And so he does deserve credit for the dog that didn't bark is important.

BLACKWELL: So the President's approval rating is up nine points since July. We've got the numbers, 36 percent in July, now at 45 percent. He's still underwater. The economy is his biggest challenge point. I wonder how much of this is about what he's getting done and how much is about the resurgence and reappearance of the former president and that juxtaposition?

GRIFFIN: It's definitely a little bit of both. Joe Biden's had the best - it's close to a quarter. He got the Inflation Reduction Act. I don't agree that it's going to reduce inflation, but it's a major win for his party. The former president who's likely to be a 2024 candidate is obviously facing a lot of scrutiny and I think that sways people.

There's also a Dobbs factor in this. I think it boosts Democrats right now, because the energy is behind what's going to happen with the Roe issue. The biggest issue in the midterms, I think, will continue to be the economy and he's got some ground to make up there. I don't know that it has any bearing really for 2024, but I do think it matters.


AVLON: Well, but the price of gas is going down, a lot of wins on Capitol Hill, not just the inflation act, but also those bipartisan piece of legislation like the CHIPS Act and other things that are taking place. And I think to Trump, there's that old line, don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.


AVLON: He benefits by that comparison and that's exactly what Republicans don't want this fall. They want it to be a referendum, not a choice.


GRIFFIN: But the one thing I'll say, the White House is very happy to see gas prices going down, I think all Americans are. But consumer costs are still very high.


GRIFFIN: Grocery costs, cost of living, so that's going to be the main thing he's got to deal within these final months heading into the midterms.

BLACKWELL: All right. Alyssa, John, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to see you, guys. Thank you.

AVLON: Thanks. BLACKWELL: Fresh off new victories on the battlefield, Ukrainian

president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a new wishlist for weapons from the U.S. We are live on the ground in Kyiv with the latest.

CAMEROTA: And an emotional reunion between a mother and a son separated by the war. His story just ahead.



CAMEROTA: Ukraine forces continue to make major gains taking back thousands of miles of territory from Russia this week. Russia is retaliating by taking aim at key infrastructure. Ukraine said an attack on a local reservoir in the central city of Kryvyi Rih caused major flooding and evacuations.

BLACKWELL: And there was this reunion, look at this. A mother embracing her son for the first time since the occupation began. It's been six months, overwhelmed here with joy. She told the soldier, I knew you'd come back and free me.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Kyiv. Ben President Zelenskyy is asking Western allies now for air defense systems to block these infrastructure strikes. What more do we know?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this happened at a press conference we attended with President Zelenskyy today. He was meeting with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. And during that press conference, he said that he is focusing on five countries as far as that request is concerned.

United States, France, Germany, Italy and Israel, which he says possess the most advanced air defense systems. He said that he hasn't - his requests have not been met yet, but he is hoping for progress. The only country so far that doesn't seem willing, perhaps to consider sharing that weaponry with Ukraine is Israel, perhaps because of its close ties with Russia.

But certainly he stressed that this is something Ukraine needs at the moment. What we've seen is not only that strike on the water pumping station near Kryvyi Rih but also for instance, you'll recall a few days ago, there was a Russian strike on the power system in the city of Kharkiv, which is Ukraine's second largest city, which left that city without power for quite some time.

And the feeling is that as Russia loses more and more ground in Ukraine and has been humiliated on the battlefield that they are retaliating by focusing their long range missiles, cruise missiles on civilian infrastructure, Victor?

CAMEROTA: Ben Wedeman, thank you very much.

BLACKWELL: All right. This just in, after weeks under a boil water order, the Governor of Mississippi says the water in Jackson is now clean, safe to drink? We'll ask a mother of three there if she's ready to drink it.