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Latest On Immigration Politics

Jun 22, 2018
Originally published on June 22, 2018 9:35 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You know, in terms of policy reversals, the Trump administration's handling of the issue of separating migrant children from their parents at the border is pretty remarkable. The administration has gone from denying this was a policy at all to insisting it was up to Congress to change it, to President Trump changing the policy himself two days ago.

And now to this morning, President Trump is tweeting that Congress shouldn't even bother holding a vote on a long-term fix. Congress had already punted plans to vote on a compromise immigration bill until next week. This bill sought to carve out a path to citizenship for the DREAMers brought here as children. It would also provide billions of dollars for a border wall and help to keep migrant families together in detention.

Let's bring in NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley to help us sort through this. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. So the president is tweeting that it's not even worth trying anymore. Does that mean this whole debate over immigration is effectively dead for now?

HORSLEY: Well, it's certainly not helpful for those trying to pass a bill. And it's not the first time the president has sabotaged that effort. Remember, in his stream-of-consciousness interview with Fox News a week ago, the president misspoke and said he opposed this bill. And the White House then waited a whole day before correcting the record and said, no, he was in support of it. Today, he's tweeting that Republicans should stop wasting their time on immigration until they can get more votes because Democrats, he said, are just playing games.

Now, it's no surprise House Democrats are not falling over themselves to pass this bill to solve a problem they see of the president's own making. But in the House, it's not the Democrats who are the problem. It's the Republicans who could pass this bill if they were united - they're not. And the president isn't helping them to get united.

GREENE: But there are so many pressing questions right now with a lot of lives hanging in the balance, right? I mean, you've got these kids who were separated from their parents under the president's policy. He has changed that policy with this executive order. But there are lawyers, there are aid workers who are reportedly saying that it's going to be hard to track down relatives for a lot of these kids. So who's addressing that situation?

HORSLEY: There's a lot of confusion on the ground, David. And, you know, the president signed this executive order changing course with a lot of fanfare, but the rest of the government has not caught up. The administration still says it wants to prosecute everyone who comes across the border illegally. It's still wrestling with a legal settlement that says they can't detain young people for more than 20 days, and it's not clear how you can satisfy both of those conditions and keep families together. Yesterday, the Justice Department asked the court to revisit the settlement. It's not clear that's going to happen. And it certainly doesn't look as if Congress is going to bail the president out.

GREENE: Well, Scott, I'm also curious about something we learned from the Department of Health and Human Services yesterday, which is the fact that that agency is asking the Pentagon to assess whether it can house up to 20,000 children. This was Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying that it can be done.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM MATTIS: We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes. We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.

GREENE: OK. So Mattis is saying that the Pentagon is up to this task, but what is the task? Who are these 20,000 children that the administration is talking about housing?

HORSLEY: Yeah. The Defense Department has stepped in in the past to help house unaccompanied minors. They did so in 2014, when there was a surge of young people coming across the border from Central America on their own. Now, though, the surge is more in family units. So the challenge maybe not to house just young people but families themselves. And it's not clear if the Pentagon is prepared to do that or if that's even the task that's been given to them.

GREENE: All right. Scott, before I let you go, I want to ask you about the first lady, Melania Trump. She got into a little bit of hot water yesterday when she - during a trip to visit detained immigrant kids in Texas. What happened?

HORSLEY: She visited a shelter where young people who are on their own are being housed. And this was the sort of camera-friendly presentation that could have been a show of compassion for the White House. But the first lady sort of stepped on her own message with a jacket that she wore as she was leaving Washington and again when she returned. It was a jacket emblazoned with the slogan - I really don't care, do you? Now, the president said she was trolling the news media. She certainly appeared to be trolling somebody.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.