Democratic Lawmakers Join Family Separation Protests at Detention Centers from Texas to New Jersey

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Protests have erupted nationwide against the Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of the parents apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol are now charged with criminal entry—and, in many cases, criminal re-entry—then taken to jails or prisons to serve their time before they are sent to immigrant detention centers. In the meantime, their children are being sent to shelters and foster care programs around the country. The Associated Press reports that between April 19 and May 31, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents. Hundreds of protesters also met at a family processing center in McAllen, Texas, where nearly half of all children have been removed from their parents. And in New Jersey, a group of Democratic lawmakers visited a private immigrant detention facility in the town of Elizabeth to speak with asylum-seeking parents held there after they were separated from their children. Meanwhile, on Sunday, in Houston, people marched in the rain outside a former warehouse and homeless shelter where the government plans to detain hundreds of separated children, including many who are a so-called tender age—children who are younger than 12 years old.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the protests that have erupted nationwide against the Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of the parents apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol are now charged with criminal entry—and, in many cases, criminal re-entry—then taken to jails or prisons to serve their time before they’re sent to immigrant detention centers. In the meantime, their children are being sent to shelters and foster care programs around the country.

The Associated Press reports, between April 19th and May 31st, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents. Former first lady Laura Bush noted in a Washington Post op-ed Sunday that, quote, “More than 100 of [the] children are younger than 4 years old.” Laura Bush condemned the process of separating children from their parents.

On Friday, Bush’s fellow Republican, Vice President Mike Pence, was interrupted by opponents of family separation during a speech in Columbus, Ohio. They yelled, “Why are you ripping children from their families?”

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: … including our historic tax cuts.

PROTESTER: Why are you ripping children from their families?

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Let’s hear it for America First Policies, that brought all of us here together today. Well, I’m here—I’m here today, first and foremost—I’m here today, first and foremost, to say thank you.

PROTESTER: It’s cruel!

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thank you to almost all of you.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Saturday, President Trump tried to blame the widely condemned family separation practice on Democrats, tweeting, “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the Border by working with Republicans on new legislation,” unquote. Trump is set to meet Tuesday with Republican lawmakers to discuss a so-called compromise immigration bill.

Some Democratic lawmakers responded Sunday by joining Father’s Day protests that took place at detention centers across the country. In Texas, Congressman Beto O’Rourke and former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar helped lead a march to a newly opened tent city where migrant children are being held. Hundreds of protesters also met at a family processing center in McAllen, Texas, where nearly half all children have been removed from their parents. They were joined by Obama’s former secretary of HUD—that’s Housing and Urban Development—Julián Castro. During the rally, Castro and a 12-year-old girl named Leah tried to deliver stuffed animals and letters to the children in the processing center, but no one came out to take them.

PROTESTER: We’re here at the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, where crimes against humanity are being committed. And this is the scene of the crime.

JULIÁN CASTRO: Hello. Good afternoon. Happy Father’s Day. Feliz Día del Padre. If we look around here at this vigil today, we see people of different backgrounds, all of us united against this “zero tolerance” policy of family separations. We’re here today because what the government is engaging in amounts to state-sponsored child abuse. … This is not who we are or who we should be. And the thing is that there’s one person who has the absolute ability to change this right now, and that’s President Donald Trump. This is President Trump’s new policy. His administration has acknowledged that. His attorney general has bragged about that. And he can change it.

LEAH: I want to tell kids at the border and all over the country not to give up, and fight for their families. We are all human and deserve to be loved and cared for. We are children. Our government has to do the right thing and stop separating us from our parents. I won’t give up fighting for the right to stay with my dad. I am not asking for a favor. It is my right, as a child, to live in peace with my father. Families belong together.

PROTESTERS: ¡Sí se puede, compañeros! ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede! ¡Sí se puede!

AMY GOODMAN: Other Democratic lawmakers were in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, to tour the processing center, including Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Chris Van Hollen. First, Merkley.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY: I’m here at the border guard station, which is the first place where those who are picked up along the border are brought. They’re brought by buses in here, and they’re checked in. There’s a series of rooms inside that separate women, women with children, men, men with children. There are no men with children here right at this moment. I’m not sure why that is, because we know that there are a lot of men crossing the border with their children. We’re told they’re not separated in advance. But this is the—after they cross the border or cross a bridge, here they come. And then, from here, they go to the larger processing center that we were at, we were at earlier. We can’t forget, despite all the bureaucratic complexity and the flowcharts, this is about children being separated from their families when their families are seeking asylum from persecution abroad.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: We talked to one of the moms there, who had been separated from her daughter. The mom and daughter had come from Guatemala. They asked for asylum. But now the mom is being prosecuted as a criminal and will be separated from her daughter. This is a deliberate and inhumane policy. And we’re here to say, to President Trump, “End it. End it today.”

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a group of Democratic lawmakers visited a private immigrant detention facility in the town of Elizabeth to speak with asylum-seeking parents held there after they were separated from their children. They were forced to wait for more than an hour to enter for their scheduled meeting at the facility, run by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America. This is New Jersey Congressmember Bill Pascrell, speaking during an exchange between the officials and a local police officer.

REP. BILL PASCRELL: This is ridiculous. We have the approval to go in there. I mean, it isn’t that we don’t have the approval.

POLICE OFFICER 1: But it just asked you wait for 45 minutes for them to come.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: No, we cannot wait for 45 minutes. We’ve been waiting since 9:00 already.

POLICE OFFICER 2: The protest was supposed to be going ’til noon, right?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: And there’s no—what?

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: We have the approval.

POLICE OFFICER 2: The protest was supposed to be going ’til noon.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: No. [inaudible]

REP. BILL PASCRELL: No, no, no.

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT: No, this is not a protest. This is the visit.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: This is a visit.

POLICE OFFICER 1: I understand.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: And when they get here, what are they going to do? Are they going to let us in?

POLICE OFFICER 2: Yeah.

POLICE OFFICER 1: Apparently so. I didn’t—

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Apparently so.

POLICE OFFICER 1: This is what the staff told me.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: We are not—no, we are entitled to go in now.

POLICE OFFICER 2: I can’t let you in.

AMY GOODMAN: That was in New Jersey. On Sunday, in Houston, people marched in the pouring rain outside a former warehouse and homeless shelter where the government plans to detain hundreds of separated children, including many who are a so-called tender age—children who are younger than 12 years old.

PROTESTERS: Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Baby jails have got to go! Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Baby jails have got to go!

AMY GOODMAN: The lease for that so-called baby jail in Houston is with Southwest Key, the same nonprofit that operates 27 facilities in California, Arizona and Texas, including the 1,500-bed facility in Brownsville that Senator Merkley was previously denied entry to. That’s 1,500 children that are being held there. Southwest Key also runs the facility where our next guest worked, until last week. When we come back, we’ll speak with a whistleblower, a youth care worker who quit the Tucson child detention center for unaccompanied minors, run by that nonprofit, Southwest Key, which runs that 1,500-person facility in Brownsville and the proposed “baby jail” in Houston, 27 facilities in total. Antar Davidson quit after, he says, Southwest Key forced him to tell children who were separated from their mother and then from their siblings not to hug. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

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Meet the Migrant Child Detention Center Whistleblower Speaking Out Against Family Separations

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