Return to Transcripts main page


Border Crisis; Guatemalan Border Crossing; Interview with Rep. Henry Cuellar; Deportation Hearings for Immigrant Children; League City Votes No on Housing Immigrants; Toxicology Results for Hot-Car Death Toddler

Aired July 10, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The immigration fight boils over. This isn't just a political battle. Children are in court with no lawyers. How can this happen?

And, new developments in the case of the Georgia father accused of killing his son by leaving him in a hot car. Prosecutors have been recreating exactly how hot that car got. And the mother of the dead little boy has now hired her own lawyer.

Plus --


JOHN WALSH: America has a couple really ugly secrets that nobody wants to talk about. We have --


BANFIELD: And putting criminals behind bars. Usually the job of police officers and lawyers, but one man has made it his life's work. John Walsh joins us live with a preview of his brand-new CNN program "The Hunt."

Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Thursday, July the 10th. And welcome to LEGAL VIEW.

And we begin here. President Obama continuing his Texas tour today with the issue of immigration reform at the forefront. While the president plans to visit the border, yesterday in Dallas, he did meet with the Texas governor, Rick Perry. After the meeting, the governor spoke with CNN's Kate Bolduan.


KATE BOLDUAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "NEW DAY": How would you describe the meeting? Are you guys on the same page?

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I certainly think what I said made a lot of sense. So - and I don't know whether we're on the same page or not. The president said -- philosophically agreed with the things that I talked about, because I said we need to secure the border. You need to put these National Guard troops on there. We need to change these policies that are enticing people to come to the United States. And these policies that I'm talking about are where that if you're from one of the Central American countries, rather than Mexico, you're treated differently. These incentives, if you will, that if you come into the United States, you can stay, stop those policies and secure the border.


BANFIELD: President Obama says he's trying to address the problem, but Congress isn't helping.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As I indicated to Governor Perry, you know, he suggested, well, maybe you just need to go ahead and act and that might convince Republicans that they should go ahead and pass the supplemental. And I had to remind him, I'm getting sued right now by Mr. Boehner apparently for going ahead and acting instead of going through Congress. Well, here's a good test case.


BANFIELD: Sounds like a bit of a catch-22. Joining me now from Washington, D.C., is Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas.

Congressman, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak with us.


BANFIELD: You've been quite an outspoken critic of President Obama, even though you are a Democrat and you have said you support him. I have this one question to start off with, and that is this. In the current crisis that we're in right now, it is somewhat different than the greater immigration crisis. In this story, the people who are coming across the border aren't slipping through the border. They're being caught. They're actually surrendering to the border guards who are there. So when we hear the governor, Rick Perry, demanding more border security or to increase border security, to bring in the National Guard, what does that have to do with anything that we're facing right now, a whole bunch of kids who are desperate for the Americans to pick them up and help them out?

CUELLAR: Well, again, everybody has a perspective, but I would tell you that in talking to the border patrol several times, they themselves have said, quote, we cannot enforce ourselves out of this crisis because, again, in my district, for example, a couple weeks ago, 280 individuals, mothers and kids, they just turned themselves in. They said, here we are. So, again, we've got to be smart on how we address security issues, but at the same time, the humanitarian crisis that we're facing at the border.

BANFIELD: And that's my point. That's my point. What does it mean to get smart about this problem? Because everybody's yelling and screaming their political bumper stickers, but nobody has a solution at this point to what to do about a lot of desperate people who are putting their hands up and saying, "help me. Just help me. I'm not here to sneak in. I'm here to ask for help." What do we do about this increasing number and how do we get the message out that we can't take you all?

CUELLAR: Well, you know, certainly the numbers haven't stopped. May of this year and June, we almost had the same amount of people just on the Texas border, 48,000 individuals in each of the months, 9,700 of them are young kids with no parents. And keep in mind that when I talk to some of those young folks, we've been told that about one-third of those young girls, innocent girls, have been abused, raped on the way up here. So the drug organizations, the smuggling organizations are making a lot of money. For example, you get 48,000 times 5,000, which is the average cost what they charge, that's $240 million that they made a month. So we have to go after those smuggling organizations. We can't play defense on the one yard line called the U.S. border.


CUELLAR: And certainly we've got to look at, first, that humanitarian crisis.

BANFIELD: How do we do that?

CUELLAR: Well, one -

BANFIELD: That's my point, how do we do that? How do we get the message out to these criminals, these smugglers, these murders, these rapists to stop doing it? Do we send over spec ops, special forces, over the border to start picking them off so that they get the message real fast, stop bringing the kids or you'll get a bullet to the brain?

CUELLAR: You know - you know, let's look at this. This is not the first time we've had a surge. We had, in 2005, we had Brazilians coming in. In the 1980s, you had the El Salvador (ph), people from Salvador (ph), because of the civil war. This is not the first time.

If you look at the lessons from those surges in the past, we used to have an operation disrupt where we actually went into those countries, we went after the smuggling organizations. And quite honestly what has worked, we detain, we treat people correctly, and then we've got to remove people under the law. And again, it's lessons learned from what we've seen in the past, and that's what -- how we ought to move forward on some of the -- on the crisis.

BANFIELD: Can I ask you one last question about the notion of the existing law that allows these children the hearings, which is backlogging everything because there are so many of them and so few resources, so few judges, so few courts, so few detention centers. You, I understand, are in favor of changing this. But does that mean you're in favor of effectively saying to desperate people, women and children, many of them who are qualified as refugees, sorry, if you get here, we will simply turn you back?

CUELLAR: No, no. The protections under the Human Trafficking Act of 2008 signed by President Bush, I believe the head sponsor was Senator Biden at that time, Howard Berman on the House side, unanimously passed by the House and the Senate. What we're saying is, we keep the protection of asylum, credible fear, a victim of a sex crime, all those protections are given. But again, we ought to give the screening process to border patrol, anybody that wants to return voluntarily that has the ability to say that just the way we treat contiguous countries like Canada and Mexico, we should allow that. But we still keep the protections. I want to see the protections under the law. Asylum, credible fear, the other protections we have. We keep those protections.

BANFIELD: It seems like a herculean task, I mean given what we're facing. But, you know what, congressman, I applaud you for speaking out and I applaud you for the work you're doing. And I sure hope that the rest of you can all stop yelling at one another and really put your heads together, put your nose to the grindstone and figure out what is a crisis, a crisis. Not necessarily an ugly political story, a crisis of humanitarian proportions. Thank you, sir.

CUELLAR: Thank you so much, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas joining us live from Capitol Hill.

A lot of the undocumented immigrants who are fleeing to the United States are spending weeks trying to make their way from Central America all the way to the American border. Our national correspondent Gary Tuchman, who is one of the best in the business, traveled to the edge of Guatemala so that you could get a sneak peek of how this unbelievable journey begins.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the Suchiate River which separates Mexico from Guatemala. Right now we're in Guatemala, the westernmost part of the country. Across the river, the southernmost part of Mexico. And you can see throughout this river there are rafts of people who are trying to get across the border and they're doing it very easily.

This is very unlike the border going to the United States. We have to be secret about it. I want to give you a look here to give you an idea of how open this is. There are police here. There are police all over here. And no one minds that people are going across the river from here in Guatemala into Mexico.

You can see this family of three, a mother, a father, and their little boy. They told me a short time ago they're getting ready to go on this raft. The rafts are made of these huge inner tubes, and they're getting ready to go across from here in Guatemala into Mexico. They're hoping also to get into the United States.

This river is active from sunrise to sunset. And in addition to all the police being here not caring that people are crossing from here in Guatemala into Mexico, what's really amazing is about a mile in this direction is the official border station. The official border station is right down there. So even though the border patrol people for Guatemala and Mexico work over there, they don't seem to care either. This is just a very active business. And the going rate right now for crossing is the equivalent of $1.30.

And this is the family we just met, the a little child and his parents. A man in the red shirt with the stick, he's the pilot of this raft. And he's the guy who just got the $1.30. Typically what happens, they will go to the other side. They will go into Mexico. There are taxis and vans and also bicycle taxis on the other side which will take them, in a lot of cases, to a nearby city in Mexico called Tapachula. In Tapachula they stay in shelters and then try to figure out where to go from there. But it is a long way from Tapachula, Mexico, the southern part of Mexico, right near here to the United States. It could take them weeks to get there, if they get there successfully. And that's an open question.

The police are not only friendly here, they're actually encouraging us to go for a ride on one of the rafts. They're saying, yes, go into Mexico. So we are. And this is our skipper. Your name, sir?


TUCHMAN: This is Paluco. Paluco, we paid him $1.30 already to go on the raft with him. Paluco, is this a fun job?


TUCHMAN: Fun. Easy?


TUCHMAN: You like taking people into Mexico?


TUCHMAN: OK. People leave Guatemala, come with Paluco. He takes them to Mexico. And then if they succeed, they end up in the United States. But if you do this in the Rio Grande of Texas, you're going to be in a lot of trouble. You can't do it in front of cops. But here with Paluco, you can do it in front of everybody.

Paluco has now taken us into Mexico. But unlike most of the people on this river, we're going to head back into Guatemala and spend the next couple of hours watching people continue to cross this river heading north.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN.


BANFIELD: So incredible. I just watched Gary not even an hour ago doing a live shot for CNN and actually watching as one of these rafts just took off. And they waved and said, yes, we're headed to America. It was a family.

So what's remarkable is the actual process. You've seen it from the beginning, from the shores of Guatemala, across the river into Mexico and up to the United States. When they get here, have you been inside the actual process, the courtroom, where some of those kids are actually marched through and face the judge, some without lawyers, some with pro bono? Jean Casarez just came from one of these hearings. She's here live. She's going to explain exactly what happens next.


BANFIELD: So as we were going to break, we were talking about the idea that from the shores of Guatemala through Mexico and over the U.S. border. A lot of those kids that you've been seeing in those detention centers ultimately end up before a federal judge, or some kind of judge, but not always with an attorney. They're entitled to a hearing. It is a very complicated matter. So thank God Jean Casarez is here and is a lawyer.

And you've just come from one of these federal courtrooms where juveniles are actually making these appearances. Walk me through it. What is it like?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I just got here. I didn't know what to expect because I had never been in a juvenile docket of immigration court.

First of all, you step off the elevator, big sign, "pro bono room." So if you, as a juvenile, do not have an attorney, you go to the left and you get an attorney.

BANFIELD: Because -

CASAREZ: You cannot appear before the judge unless you have that attorney sitting by you.

BANFIELD: But you don't get access to a public defender, right? You don't get the free services?

CASAREZ: It is a pro bono, someone that is volunteering to be an attorney for you, and there were a lot of them there.

It was so filled, and there were children from Guatemala and El Salvador, all boys -- I saw no females -- older versus younger, 15-to- 18-years old.

On the left side is the government. They are asking for removal. They want deportation.

BANFIELD: No matter what, every one of those cases the government said they've got to go.



CASAREZ: On the right, you've got the child, and you've got the attorney and an interpreter. Every single case asked for a continuance.

So yesterday in the congressional hearing, we heard there would be an expedited removal process by immigration. That was Department of Homeland Security.

No. Four to six months was generally the continuance that I heard. There was one child --

BANFIELD: So wait. They're going to leave the courtroom today, and four to six months later, they're supposed to come back and find out what the story is?

CASAREZ: That's right. And we learned yesterday also through the hearing in Washington that 46 percent of the children do not show up to court.

So I was sitting there, saying --

BANFIELD: I'm surprised it's not higher.

CASAREZ: -- these kids care, or the people they are with care.

I would say 50 percent had a relative. Fifty percent did not have a relative.

But here's what's fascinating. One young man from El Salvador, it took him about a year to get here to these shores because he would work odd jobs along the way in Mexico --

BANFIELD: To pay for it.

CASAREZ: -- working his way up to the border.

BANFIELD: Jean, did any of these -- and, look, this is a small cross- section. Let's be honest. Jean spent -- how many hours this morning in this courtroom?

CASAREZ: This morning.

BANFIELD: OK, it's a small cross-section of the -- I don't know -- 50,000 of the children who are arriving this year or expected to arrive this year.

Did any of them say, I can't go back, it's critically dangerous, my family's been threatened, the gangs are marauding through the streets?

CASAREZ: That's going to be part of the defense, because even when the judge ordered removal, the defense would then step in and say, wait a minute. We have got some defenses here.

For instance, there's a petition in family court. We want that heard. And I was speaking with one lawyer who said this young man from El Salvador, his father had abandoned him at birth. His mother had abandoned him.

So their defense is that he is a minor who has been abandoned by all and should be allowed to stay in the country.

There are a plethora of defenses --

BANFIELD: I can imagine. I can imagine.

CASAREZ: -- a plethora of defenses, and asylum is the main one.

BANFIELD: Asylum is the main one. I think that's probably the case for a lot of those young mothers -- mothers and young children who have arrived as well. It's fascinating.

CASAREZ: It is. It was fascinating.

BANFIELD: And I'm sure it's not the last we'll hear about this process and how it may change.

Jean Casarez, thank you for that.

And still on this vein, a suburban Houston city is saying not in our backyard. They don't want the prospect of the -- of having to house undocumented migrant kids. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can't even take care of ourselves. We have veterans that are homeless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This proposal violates public responsibility.

HEIDI THIESS, LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS, COUNCILWOMAN: They're not talking to the people about it. You don't get a hearing. You don't get to have a say.


BANFIELD: On Tuesday, League City, Texas, banned the processing and detention of undocumented migrants within the city limits. They just said no, not going to let the federal government bring anybody here and put them up.

And joining me by phone right now is someone who spearheaded this effort, Councilwoman Heidi Thiess. She proposed the resolution and she's here with me, live.

Ms. Thiess, thank you so much for joining me. You didn't, as I understand it, even have an overture or a request from the federal government to bring any busloads of migrants to your city.

You did this -- is it proactively? Is that what I'm understanding?

THIESS (via telephone): Well, yes. You have to remember that the government isn't asking anyone's permission. They're not making overtures to the local government. That's exactly why I felt like we needed to step up and do something.

My problem was that I was observing the federal government go around local authorities, county commissioners, mayors, city council, none of them were being communicated with.

None of them were being informed, and certainly none of the residents and citizens were being informed or asked for input. That's what prompted me to write this resolution.

BANFIELD: So while that's interesting, there were some council members who disagreed. The majority agreed and the resolution was passed. I'm sure that you understand federal law as well as anybody else. It trumps this kind of thing. In the Supreme Court of the United States, even this year, you know, they concreted that decision.

I think we might have just lost the councilwoman. Can you hear me? I think we might have lost that telephone connection.

I'll tell you what, we're going to try and re-establish a connection with Heidi Thiess. Again, she's from League City -- it's a Houston suburb -- in advance of any potential request from the federal government to set up detention facilities to hold this overflow have said no.

Could that end up as a big legal battle? Potentially. I'm going to carry on. I think we might have her. Can you hear me now?

THIESS (via telephone): Yes, I can. I'm sorry.

BANFIELD: Sorry we lost you there. What I was going to ask you is, federal law trumps the kind of thing that you did. Even states can't dictate immigration policy to the federal government. And you must understand that. So what was the purpose of this resolution?

THIESS (via telephone): Well, actually, I disagree with that because I don't believe that the federal government is following its own laws. That's part of my problem.

And I am a big Tenth Amendment advocate, and I believe in states' rights and our ability and our right to be able to self-govern.

The federal government is restricted and supposed to be restricted to only enumerated powers, and they're well outside those bounds today, so actually I would disagree with you on your premise.

BANFIELD: I can understand the concern, when many of your residents say, look, we can't even afford to look after our vets here. I think a lot of people would understand the stresses that this kind of thing can put on a community.

But at the same time, do you see how those who are your critics say that is just heartless? We've got kids being raped in overcrowded detention facilities. They need help.

These are people who are desperate, and they need help, and effectively, your critics say you're just turning your backs on them. Can you understand that criticism?

THIESS (via telephone): No, actually, I don't. I don't accept that either because the premise, again, is wrong. The reason is because the resolution is aimed at the overall problem.

Right now the unaccompanied minors account for about 18 percent of the total numbers that are in current detention right now, and so you don't get a choice as a locality as to who you will accept into your community. The feds will bus to you who they need to get --

BANFIELD: Councilwoman, there's 50,000 of these kids this year. Whatever numbers you're working off of are completely skewed by the craziness that's going on right now.

I know you've seen people have protested the buses where the kids have their faces pressed up to the glass and are seeing Americans who look like rabid.

Do you not see the difference between illegal residents who are here maybe to get a free ride and those who are desperately seeking protection from murderers?

THIESS (via telephone): Well, I have to -- I have a singular responsibility that I swore an oath to uphold, and that is to the residents of my community. They come first and foremost. That is where my loyalty lies. And right now my protection has to be for them first, first and foremost.

Now, everybody wants to help people in need. That's why Texas is a known haven for people. Look at how we absorbed tens of thousands after Katrina. There is no bounds to the generosity and the compassion of Texans.

However, in a moment of governance, you have to look at 100 percent of the problem. This is a crisis. It is being mismanaged by the federal government. Their secrecy leads you to suspect what is happening inside those camps and detention centers.

They're not letting representatives of the people inside to ascertain the conditions, and the medical health and mental health are not being properly screened nor are their identities, and they're releasing them into our communities.

This is not something that I want to allow. Frankly I don't want League City to become one more stop in a chain of human trafficking that is being exacerbated by our own federal government.

BANFIELD: I respect your opinion, and I respect the fact that you came on the program today. And I certainly hope that we can get to the bottom of this and that we can all work together in a crisis for the best for those who are in pain.

THIESS (via telephone): I know one way we can get to the bottom of this.

BANFIELD: Go ahead.

THIESS (via telephone): The federal government needs to start enforcing the laws. If they start following the laws --

BANFIELD: Ms. Thiess, you know full well that these people aren't escaping into America. They're volunteering at the border to be caught. No one's getting through the wall of those who are there.

This is a different circumstance. It's the desperate who are begging for help. It's not those who are sneaking in. You understand the difference, right?

THIESS (via telephone): They're only catching one in five. They are only --

BANFIELD: We're talking about a third-world crisis. We're talking about the current crisis, Ms. Thiess. We're not talking about the greater immigration policy which itself is a problem.

THIESS (via telephone): I am talking about that.

BANFIELD: The children right now who are arriving at the border are volunteering, surrendering themselves to the border agents. The border agents are actually doing their jobs. It's being enforced.

The problem is there's so many they're overcrowded. They're being raped, they're being beaten, and they need help. Some of them don't even have water. And at least in one case, 100 of them are sharing one toilet that doesn't even have a door

And that's why I'm asking you, do you really turn your backs on the federal government asked you to help?

THIESS (via telephone): Government security -- you're talking about government-funded staff houses. We know exactly what happens inside stash houses. We don't want stash houses.

We are trying to stop it, and the only way to stop it is to stop the flow of traffic, and you don't stop the flow of traffic by inviting more in and taking them all in. You have to stop it. You have to stop it before it reaches the border.

BANFIELD: I understand that and I respect that. At the same time, there's a dichotomy here. You've got to stop it, send a message, but at the same time, you can't turn your backs on desperation, and there's a lot of that.

I have to move on. Councilwoman, thank you so much for being part of the show today. I hope we get a chance to talk again.

THIESS (via telephone): Thank you.

BANFIELD: We have some new developments in that other extremely disturbing story. The Georgia hot car death case. The toxicology reports are back on the little boy who died in that SUV. We're going to tell you what they reveal in a live report next.


BANFIELD: We have breaking news in the toddler hot car death case that we've been following.

Ever since 22-month-old Cooper Harris died in his father's vehicle, we have been wondering, is it possible there might have been anything in his system? Is it possible he could have been drugged before being left in the car? The toxicology report has just been released, and we can now tell you the answer to that question. Victor Blackwell is live at the CNN Center in Atlanta. What does it say, Victor?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Negative, and that's the result from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Samples were sent off from Cobb County medical examiner after the autopsy, the day after Cooper was discovered dead, sent to GBI. They've now come back with no evidence of traces of Benadryl or anything stronger.