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tv   Journalists Discuss Trump Administrations Family- Separation Policy at...  CSPAN  September 13, 2022 8:40pm-9:30pm EDT

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is short front row seat to the midterm elections. watch it as it happens on the campaign trail. speeches, meet and greet, debate and other events during this year's senate, house and gubernatorial races. too not miss a single election moment because you can take us with you on the go with c-span now, a free mobile video app. visit 2022. your website for all of our midterm election coverage on demand when you miss that life is will state-by-state maps and charts to track results from every primary. c-span campaign 2022, your unfiltered view of politics. >> next, katlyn dickerson staff writer for the atlantic talks about her investigation of the trump administration family separation policy at the u.s. southern border. this runs about 50 minutes. >> hi everyone and welcome to the big story from the atlantic.
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i am the editor and chief of the atlantic. i'm joined today by caitlyn dickerson superstar reporter for the atlantic. an author of this month's cover story. many of you who are to subscribers at home will see this in the mail shortly. it is a magnificent comprehensive investigation of the trumpar administration famiy separation policy. child separation policy. it is an interesting story on a number of levels for us. it is the longest piece i have published in my time as editor. it might be the longest we publish in memory. we are old magazine i cannot attest for what happened in the 19th century. i know we havekn not published this kind of story in quite a while. it comes in almost 30,000 words. i would encourage all of you who have not read it to read it. do not think of is a very, very long story.
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think of it is a very, very short book. that will help you psychologically. but caitlyn, welcome. i am going to take some questions but you put them in the chat and i will ask them -- the good ones at least. make sure they are good. and interesting as we go through this. but caitlyn, we have a good amount of time. but we have a lot to cover. so, let me jump in. i why don't we just start at the beginning. by the beginning i mean the beginning of your interest in immigration as a subject and in particular when you came to realize that the trump administration was doing something novel in terms of its enforcement or its ideology surrounding preventing illegalon immigration. why don't you start with when he
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came to the beat obviously it wasn't at the atlantic, you can take us back a little ways. >> so i actually fell into immigration reporting because immigration happened to be something i knew a lot about when i started out as a journalist. as you know, early on in a newsroom your job is to kind of stand out and have s smart ideas and show you can bring something to the table when your walk working alongside people who been doing this a lot longer than you. and so i was a production assistant in journalism, i had grown up in a part of the country that has lots of immigrants and westside california in the central valley. and study inan college. a so, my best pictures were always immigration stories bits are natural when i became a record reporter i begin to cover it. in 2016 i was hired to cover immigration at the "new york times". it was in the summerr of 2016. and at that point a lot of the country in the news media knew
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that hillary clinton would become the next president. of course she did not become the next president. all the sudden my mandate change dramatically. the time staffed up we had a whole team of people dedicated to covering this one issue. because trump obviously really emphasized immigration more than any presidential candidate in the last several decades as he was running. we knew he was going to take it really seriously as an issue and push really hard to change policies. i don't think anybody anticipated how far the administration would go. and as it relates to family separation i think there are two things here that reallyy stood out from the norm. in my experience the norm in terms of historic policy norms in the united states. the first family separations is just the mere fact they took place in relative secret. hundreds of separations starting
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out el paso, texas reporters would ask about the administration would tell us as a reporter you are used to hearing no comment in response to a story the government does not want you to report. or used to hearing a public affairs office change the subject or offer some context. at least help soften the blow of the story they know the public is not going to react kindly to two. that is part of why i really wanted to stick with this story. it is my responsibility to inform readers and i was just not getting good a information. thee regression posted of the united states cap separating children from their parents as it immigration policy.
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by deterrence which is how we approach immigration and enforcement generally. it was just so harsh. it was so painful for parents and for children and continues to be. i just had to stick with it. >> so to be clear, note presidential administration going back all the way i'd ever done anything this traumatic. >> no. there are examples of kids being taken from their parents in america's history. not in a borderr context. we've had pretty cool and pretty harsh border policies. even the days when people cross on the border from mexico in order to be cleaned.
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mexican immigrants are somehow unclean. the forcible separation of children from their parents is just not something the border patrols ever engaged in in american history. >> let's go into this. one of the fantastic aspects of, the story one of the great achievements of your story is that you take us into the decision-making process. you take us all the way in to the bureaucratic decision-making all along the way that allowed this to happen and it developed its own momentum. it developed its own bureaucratic momentum. but somebody had to think of this person first. must've been steven miller which is donald trump's hard light immigration.
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very hard lined away. brought a lot of ideas to donald trump it it's more complicated than just a story of c is steven miller i deterrence measures. it took a lot more than steven miller and donald trump and jeff sessions the start of the border patrol agent in their early 20s had a career in the heenforcement and ultimately became the head of ice immigrations and customs enforcement under president trump. he first came up with the idea to separate families as an escalation of this prevention by deterrence. this idea to have consequences to discourage illegal border crossing it once for the purses
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purposes of seeking asylum pretty first propose a separate and children from their parents in 2014 during the obama administration. which is when we saw the first major search of children's and families crossing the border in the border patrol was totally overwhelmed at the time. congress did not intervene. you have essentially a police force left to figure this out. this a policy which is a humanitarian policy, and economic policy. and when you leave this to the border patrol the solution they come up with time and again is punishment. jeh johnson who is homeland security secretary at the time rejects the idea. then the idea resurfaces very soon after donald trump takes office precursors of bureaucratic from below? so take us through that. donald trump wins in 16, comes into office. this dormant idea is brought
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where? >> so, trump comes into office and obviously announcing a publicly but also visiting border patrol headquarters and border patrol headquarters they've got to shut this border down and will stop at nothing to do it.t. bring me your best ideas. to have tom holman who is the head of ice and have a man named kevin who is the head of customs and border protection very quickly re- raised the concept they had already talked about. an already favored. he gets really excited and kind of obsessed with it. miller continues to push for the next year end a half until it is officially implemented. donald trump also begins to favorite. i was surprised about this ultimately. the story ends up being a case for there bureaucracy. i learned in doing it in the wa, the policies are made typically you have the principles are the
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heads of agencies of great decision-making power but they have huge portfolios. and so policy idea should only ever reach the desk of settlement like tristen nielsen who is homeland security secretary ultimately signs off on family separations. should only reach her desk if they have been thoroughly vetted. subject matter experts have determined these policies are logistically feasible for they are legal, their ethical they make sense politically to the office. all of these layers exist to prevent a bad policiess from evr evil or who has the authority to sign. and these systems were either sidelined, disempowered or completely cut out of theo conversation. you edit members of the bureaucracy who were opportunistic. when a lot of favor if they push for policies they knew they're going to make the president happy. those without to be in the room when decisions were made. everyone else raising red flags were cut out.
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>> what is so interesting here and may be ironic, is this idea came from the quote unquote deep state. the permanent bureaucracy that is supposed to kind of manage the whims of politicians and regularize things. the radical idea comes up. but before we go to the next phase, us talk about child separation in its details. at the idea is preventative. in other words, if word gets out into guatemala, honduras, or ever, if you try to cross the border with your kid the u.s. government will take your kid from you actually kidnap your child in some bureaucrat legal way. and all the people trying to come to america asylum seek, workers, et cetera, will not
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come because they will be tood. scared. is that the theory of the case? >> that is the theory of thens case. there is a lot of reason to believe it's not a good theory. >> wise that not a good theory? it sounds pretty scary if you're sitting in guatemala so she might lose your kid maybe i won't try to go across. >> that's what's difficult about it. it is intuitive this by deterrence i will walk you through academics have been studying for long time. and no really well what works and what doesn't works. the early 2003 start in the united states prosecuting b individual adults who cross the border illegally. it is that misdemeanor crime the first time around and then he a becomes a felony of the second, third, fourth and beyond. so, to begin with the program is called operation streamline. it completely floods up along the border and immediately prosecutors assistant u.s. attorneys are unhappy with it
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because they are saying it's taking awaymo resources from moe important cases that we need to deal with. and not only that, and does not seem to be influencing long-term trends. so if you look at shifts in migration of taken place of the last 20 years, those can be explained entirely by looking economic shifts and demographic shifts in the united states in the country were people are coming from. all of those changes are attributable to the availability of resources here. the availability of jobs here. and what opportunities people have available to them in their home countries as well as the general public safety situation. and whether people can actually stay home and feel safe that way. but nevertheless, even though prevention by deterrence first in the form of streamline did not seem to be working. it was not making a dent in border crossings in any significant was also overwhelming taking
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resources away from the more important national security considerations, important drug trafficking cases, weapons trafficking cases for this idea becomes more popular. so ultimately begets the point of separating children from their parents. anecdotally is heading up the federal case against family separations and prompted family reunification, he talks about asking every parent that he interviewed for that case, if you hadno known about family h separation which you have left your country to begin with? would you have decided to stay home and they just kind of shrugged their shoulders and say what was i going to do? we left because our lives were in danger. i couldn't stay. that is something people like the separate families. did not take into account. x the level of desperation at home is the key determining
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whether somebody's going to start the track. >> it is a very, very high barwh to surpass when you're talking to a parent who not only cannot feed themselves or their child, but on a day-to-day basis fears 60 on that for one second so people understand this population. talked about people living in very dangerous central american countries. talk about the conditions a little bit more and prompted them to try to come across to the united states. you're talking about a lot of times ana combination of deep dp poverty. and in daily fear encounters with the violence. so i can just tell you about my experience with reporting and parts of mexico where people come to the night states from in central america.
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when the "new york times" sent me too guatemala to write about a family that was trying to get into the united states, i had security with me the entire time. many people just within this family had been murdered. it was kind of a domino effect. a gang identified one person and a family. and once that person to join the gang. kind of decide on their behalf they have some responsibility they uphold for the gang. that first individual doesn't do right by the gang that's one after another after another. relatives continue to bee murdered. and i'll go house to house to visit people associated with this family, we were hiding. they could not let anyone know where they lived for they could not let anyone know i was there it would've put them in greater danger. and then the poverty to is really something i don't know a lot of americans sat down and
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thought about us as having no roof. houses have no floors. families are splitting a tortilla among them. a family of four per day very, very littleg nutrients. access to school is a most nonexistent. kids do not have shoes. that stuff i think most americans have a hard time envisioning. it isre a set of circumstances where a lot of parents just feel really, really helpless, hopeless and scared. think about how scared you woult have to be to decide to go to the united states knowing that you're going to have to travel through a hot and dangerous desert. knowing you are going to encounter murderous gangs. nobody signs up to do that hounless they feel they have absolutely no choice. >> right. we can get a little bit later towards possible solutions to this dilemma. obviously a lot of the solutions have to do with the economies and political structures of other countries, not ours.
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but come back to the narrative of the adoption of this policy. one ofab the reasons we were talking about doing this story over the past year orve year ena half, one of the reasons to do it was to try to understand the mentality of government officials and bureaucrats. it is not actually true when you put a frog in water the frog let's himself get boiled. the frog actuallyke jumps out. this is kind of a situation like that in which they he is put on gradually. you move from this deterrence to that deterrence and somehow the idea that taking children from their parents become socialized within these government structures. talk about that. and specifically as this idea is being socialized in the upper reaches of the trump administration, are there people
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who said wait a secretary, are you serious? you are going to take smallm children from their parents and move them at 1000 miles away and not even know where they are? did anyone along the way say hey, i am all for deterrence. i have these views on immigration. i am a hardli outliner. this does not comport with my notion in it using this term advisedly my notion of family values. >> a lot of people saidpl that. and ultimately when the decision to pursue separating families by then they had been left out of the room. thatat been left out of the conversation. when family separations are first proposed they are described as such and pretty blatant terms. i interviewed jeh johnson with the home at security secretary who did believe in deterrence but did pursue other deterrent policies. but said that's too far from you not comfortable with
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jon kelly who was also considered the idea after it was proposed. others, he said the same thing, i believe in enforcing the law, i am willing to crack down, he was not a big believer in deterrence by yet -- but he felt this was too far. >> john kelly goes to the white house as the chief of staff and is there when this is all going on. what role did he play there? >> he said his approach was to focus purely on the logistics. when the idea was proposed to him he requested everything to find out whether it is possible. he learned that the federal government did not have the resources to impose such a program without total chaos which wait ultimately saw -- we ultimately saw.
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kids are being taken, you are training theoretically to do this in a way that is not chaotic if you are going to do it at all. he told me that he knew that appealing to the president and stephen miller on a moral basis was not going to be effective, they were not going to listen to him. he foc and sous he knew that appealingo the president and on a sort of moral basis t wasn't going to be effective we just can't do it and -- i didn't know he had any issue with it. we needed more money and more trainingyo so you could see thee is logic behind the approach but also as a result of it that is
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repeated instances and he could have said i oppose it but he didn't he addressed to said we e don't have the money. >> he did have, to be fair to him, he did have a reasonable understanding that trump wouldni never respond to the humanitarian argument is that fair? >> i think it is. there's so many different approaches people say they took to try to prevent this from happening. and it ultimately just didn't work. people say they just tried to change the subject and focus on policies hoping if the president got the outcome he was looking for and got the border crossings to lower he would give up on the idea w and that didn't come to fruition. the fact that migration and these numbers are typically out
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of side of the control of any given white house and so you can try these other tactics but you can't control that and the higher the numbers rose the more upset donald trump became with finding a way to minimize them. >> i want to go to some of the questions. there's tons to talk about here at the risk of a spoiler alert i want people to read the piece and ask about two people whose names are associated with the thisapart from john kelly and dd trump. nielsen who was the dhs off on thiso signed and stephen miller. i want you to talk about if you could her role which you will see is more complicated than we initially thought and miller who
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is still the ideological driver of the whole set of policies. >> cure stone nelson came into the trump administration has a moderate. she was a cybersecurity expert that help established the first time under george w. bush. experience and no strong feelings about immigration, one of the people i interviewed who joined under trump and just said i didn't know that much i wasn't thinking about it that much. from the beginning they seemed a bit misguided in terms of whatct their expectations for their jobs might look like given how much of this white house cared about the issue but family separations proposed to her right after she's confirmed in december of 2017 and she says absolutely not. john kelly said no to this. i'm not doing it. i don't believe in it and then
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over time this alternative version of achieving the same end is proposed to her with prosecution and its in these terms that are quite bland to pursue a prosecution initiative and people have been committing rimisdemeanor crimes we've been letting them go because there's a lot of fear mongering around this idea that a lot of the parents might have been smugglers and might not have been related at all they might have been victims of trafficking and there's aes significant numr that's always been an issue but a relative with small compared to the legitimate families that come to the united states so it's she's also told it's been done before and the systems and processes exist to prevent chaos from in savings are based on that information she approves a policy and another important thing is she came into her role
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at a disadvantage because she was viewed as a moderate. kevin who was the head of customs and border protection is another that reviewed in the white house and they had a lot to prove. >> of these people were trying to prove they were tough so donald trump liked stuff. >> some of them would say i want to stay in the job. others are a little bit more open to the fact i had a career and wanted to hold onto it so they were trying to appear tough enough and trump repeated to nielsen maybe you should write a memoir and call it tough enough so nielsen was always trying to meet these expectations and show she wasn't a closeted liberal so
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oshe eventually signed off on this policy that she intellectually seemed to totally oppose but had convinced herself of a lot of realities and decided i agreed to zero tolerance. i think families aren't going to be separated. it doesn't make sense. she is a smart person but she worked so hard to please her bosses. the other person you asked me about was stephen miller. >> there is no gray in the approach to this. he thought it was a good idea. one of my questions in the broader context does he still think it's a good idea.
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with of the accomplishments of the administration i think that he does still believe in separating families and really doing anything to steal the border and stopping at nothing to do that. he's even made clear people familiar with the groundwork that has been laid for the future administration or future republican administration that looks anything like trump that the same policies can be pursued even more quickly and dramatically they and they were in the past and he believed in this idea and inserted the pressure shamelessly. he would call the homeland
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security secretary for his ideas to try to get buy-in's on a conference call where he would introduce an idea and essay the head of this division agrees with me and that division might say i have questions about that i'm not sure and are you saying that this isn't a priority. i do agree it is a priority. i have your support and then he would go to a white house meeting and repeat it and say literally just bullying people and to agree with his ideas ands was not embarrassed to keep people on the phone after
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midnight not even letting the other person speak at all. it was a singular focus for him. >> he would give him the cold shoulder but not everyone had a john kelly use the power. >> he's a career military officially in general. he believed a really strongly in the chain of command so he couldn't believe that miller would call people and make demands to try to pressure him into making decisions. the idea was anathema. kelly would call the white house and try to get miller in trouble f but other people, the cabinet secretaries much higher than miller in the official chain of command let themselves be bullied by him and when i was asked why they basically just said miller handle this mystique
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and was so protected because of this narrative that again as we just discussed it is the reason why donald trump was elected president and was the key to him being able to hold onto power and because of that with any kind of accountability even if he defied the chain of command over and over again. >> and they did not execute this policy while. part of the disaster do you think that the same people who are now in government exile if they came back would do it better? do you think that they have learned lessons about how to pull this off in a more effective way.
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two separate families and feel like they've taken lessons away from the experience the first time around to be able to do it better. they didn't have a system for keeping track of parents, so children were sent over to the department of human services. just a process. what is it that we are doing with of these parents once they've been prosecuted criminally they still have the right to claim asylum but it takes over a year onve average r the ruling to be made, so what is the plan. i do think these officials would go into such a policy in the future a little bit more eyes open about what happened when the subrogation occurred if no
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one really thoughtt about that until after thee separations began but they still believe nobody likes to say this but it tworks. the data they are citing is inaccurate. after zero tolerance ended with marty and emily and across the border. this gets to the profound moral question. donald trump for most areas. they were so absurd and these
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men who still believe that this is effective, you think given not only the uproar but the photographs and video of children screaming, wanting their parents, these horrible audio and video that we saw, no affect on them? >> i think a lot of them what to say there is a lot in the media about the families abrasions. reporters really need these and they are more dramatic than they actually were and they may look to the fact there's nothing to prevent family separation from occurring. the country really opposed it. why hasn't anything happened at the time when there was so much frustration across the political spectrum of the separations that
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paul ryan goes to john kelly at the time of the chief of staff and says we need a law banning or we are going to get questioned in the midterms. none of us have ever heard of that. i think that these career enforcement officials would say to me wouldn't favor the border got this cost then why is it still permissible? >> in the handling of this operation are there any heroes in the story from your perspective? >> there are a lot of people in
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the bureaucracy that try to prevent familyra separation from taking place on the same grounds kelly tried to stop it so you have in the health and human service operation jonathan white who oversaw at the beginning of the administration that program and the federal custody he found out about the proposal to separate families in their early meetings where you had them invited to meet with law enforcement. the two agencies have to work together on immigration and they don't play well together because it's made up of a lot of people who are social workers and sitting in the room the two groups don't tend to get along so they have this relationship that's kind of detrimental to all sides. in an early meeting about the proposal to separate families he starts writing a book talking
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about the fact the agency didn't have enough space to house children who are separated who tend to be younger than those that cross the border on their own. they didn't have the resources to deal with the emotional fallout that is easily anticipated and also pointed out children the cross the border with their parents don't have anywhere to go. a child that chooses to cross on their own is coming because they have a relative that could take them and in the united states. a child that comes with of their parent is expected to remain with their parent. the expectation is they are going to stay together so they pointed out along with several of his colleagues not only do they believe it's a bad idea but the resources didn't exist. you have versions of that same
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argument being made and once people find out about it i found examples and places with people in the federal bureaucracy who tried to raise concerns with people at the white house and leadership about why this is such a bad idea and so there are a lot of people that fought back and ultimately they just didn't win the argument. >> anotheras question that has come in what is your assessment of the executive order setting up a task force or family reunification and i guess they correlate. how many children do we still think are out there floating in the bureaucratic abyss who haven't been unified with their parents? >> almost all the children separated have been released and some federal custody. if they haven't been reunified
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with their parents they are in the care of a foster or family friendor that went through an application process to take the child in but it's different from reuniting them with a parent with whom they crossed the border and they were planning to continue living with almost 40 years ago so between 700 and a thousand. some of them may have found them on their zoning haven't reported to the government not wanting to deal with the government after what happened. the biden administration had a really tall order in front of it with the task force to reunify and so much time had passed and record keeping was so poor that
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they had little to work with to reunify. so far they've been able to track down more than 400 families that have been reunified into several hundred more in the process of applying. what i hear from the aclu into those that are supporting the effort is the biden administration is working hard to do its best to reunify and they've had and amount of success but now they are dealing with complicated cases. i've heard about parents who were deported with others that happened with over a thousand cases that had been back at home since then they've had the two take custody of an extended relatives child and i heard about one whose sister had been killed and so they were being taken care of by the separated apparentar.
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there are many extraordinary details here and i want to use the term unbelievable advisedly because the story is entirely accurate, but something that is completely unbelievable to me is that when family separation started, no one for weeks sought to even write down and keep a log or escheat of where the children werein going and who their parents were. you could define that as negligence but that bleeds over into immorality very quickly when that happens.
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of that to me i think it is of all the incredible reporting that you did in the kind of bureaucratic way. that's what you found most hard to be true. my question what is the aspect of the entire multiyear saga that he was still kind of can't get your mind around even though you are in a handful of great experts in the world on this. what still stays in yourn mindi can't believe that actually happened? >> there's a number of things related to family separation. it may be the most striking that i still can't believe held very
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significant roles overseeing this issue i had to explain at a very basic level they would say i never expected to lose track and couldn't imagine things would go as far. you can call up any prosecutor in the country and ask them if tomorrow i want to start prosecuting hundreds of parents at a time outside of the communities nobody nearby to take those children in and by the way they don't speak the language most government officials are going to be using do you think that is going to work and they were to tell you it won't work but obviously having spent years covering the issue i know that these agencies don't communicate well together and don't have systems in place for keeping track of people in different departments and areas so i was shocked that to this
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day many people involved don't understand how immigration enforcement works i got an answer that was troubling but helpful. it's not something they are pursuing on any side of the aisle because there's not a whole lotot of money frankly ina career in immigration but also its politically unpopular and so people don't want to touch it and so that leaves the few and not a whole lot of concerns for logistics and concerns for the policies to make these decisions for us. >> totally fascinating. i hope that for the viewers this
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conversation gave you at least a taste of what caitlin has discovered in the reporting and i will encourage all of you to read the story in full. i also want to encourage all of you you are not subscribers already to subscribe to the atlantic. i don't like being a salesman for anythingng but i'm happy to know our subscribers are the ones who support the kind of journalism that caitlin and others here do so i'm very grateful to anyone who subscribes to our magazine and i also want to note that in september weem are returning lis to the atlantic festival who you've been mainly a virtual the last couple of years but we are
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in late september going to return to washington, d.c. live and virtually you can find tickets starting tuesday the 16th and we hope that you participate in that. let me end by encouraging everyone to read the story and sit withit it. it's not just history as has been suggested. but there are people who think this was a success and want to replicate it and will probably do a better job. floating around in society in certain circles let's please
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read it. i want to thank you for joining us. she's had a busy week as you all may imagine talking about the story. the magnificent achievement in journalism and we are very grateful for her work and her editors who work with her for a year, year and a half to make this a reality. so, thank you for what you've done here and what you will do and thanks to all of you for joining us. and i will sign off on that note. thank you very, very much.
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