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Why Democrats Don't Support GOP Immigration Measures

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump did something yesterday his administration had repeatedly said only Congress could do. He signed an executive order ending his administration's policy of separating children from families that illegally crossed the border into the United States. The president touted this move at a rally last night in Minnesota, where he also took aim at Democrats, saying that they, quote, "don't care about the impact of uncontrolled migration."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Democrats put illegal immigrants before they put American citizens. What the hell is going on?

GREENE: All right. We have a Democratic congressman in our studios this morning. It is Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. Congressman, thanks for coming in. I know it's going to be a busy day for you of voting and other things on the Hill.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Oh, thanks for having me.

GREENE: I want to start by asking you about a detention center that I gather you've visited, where some of these kids who are separated from their families have been held. What did you see there?

CASTRO: Well, it was very jarring. You know, there was a room called the infants room. And I walked into that room twice. And there was an 8-month-old boy named Roger (ph) who was being taken care of, but his parents were nowhere to be found. And another young girl named Leah (ph), who is a year old, who was also there separated from her family. And I couldn't help but wonder, what would become of these kids and how they would be reunited ultimately with their family members?

GREENE: Well, that's a big question right now. Now you have the president's executive order saying that it is the policy of his administration not to separate families. How are these kids who you saw going to be reunited with their family? How long will it take?

CASTRO: That's a deeply troubling question, and I'm not sure that there's a clear answer. And that's something that the Congress needs to work on and obviously the executive branch needs to work on. But the American people should continue to keep up the pressure and make sure that these kids are reunited with their parents. And even when I was there, in fact, there was another infant in the room with Roger, and they were both wearing the same orange striped shirt. And so the second time I came into the room, I actually got confused because I thought the other baby was Roger. And so it makes me wonder in the system that we have how folks keep track of these very young kids, and I'm worried about some of them getting lost.

GREENE: Well, to make sure that doesn't happen, you say that Congress has a role. So let me ask you about that. I mean, if Republicans brought up a clean bill narrowly focused on addressing this family separation, you know, perhaps addressing reunification but also following the president's order and saying parents and children will be detained together but will not be separated, are you ready to vote for that?

CASTRO: If there's a clean bill on family separation, it hopefully also addresses reunification. But certainly, if there is a clean bill, I think that you'll see Democrats actively supporting that kind of legislation. But let's be clear. What we have in front of us today in the Congress is not a clean bill at all. It's trying to leverage this situation to get other more draconian immigration measures passed, including tying DACA, for example, to a border wall.

GREENE: But let me ask - before we get to that, I want to ask you though, I mean, there have been these provisions in place, including from a court settlement from several decades ago that protect kids from being in detention for long periods of time. The president says that's exactly what forced him to separate families. I mean, in whatever you vote for in terms of a clean bill that you say deals with separation, are you ready to let go of some of those protections about child detention if it means making sure separation doesn't happen?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, separation obviously is an important issue, so is reunification, so is making sure that we don't have indefinite detention and also making sure that we move these people out of what I consider to be subhuman conditions. If you look at these processing centers, they're basically concrete floors and steel cages. And it doesn't have to be that way. You know, it doesn't have to be a luxurious palace. But you don't need to stick people in a place with concrete floors and steel cages for days.

GREENE: But are you ready to let go of some of these protections that prevent kids from being in detention for long periods of time if it has to be done to get a compromise that would address separating families?

CASTRO: Obviously, I'd have to see exactly what we're talking about. But it's - again, these protections are not luxuries. Each of them is vitally important.

GREENE: I want to ask you about one argument that the administration and some Republicans have made, which is that people have been using children to gain illegal entry into the United States. And there have been some statistics suggesting that's happening more often recently, in some cases bringing kids who are not even related to them posing as family members. Is that a problem you acknowledge, and how would you address it?

CASTRO: I mean, I think that that's certainly possible with some folks. In any kind of system, you're going to have some level of abuse, whether it's immigration or housing or education or anything else and not just by immigrants but by other Americans. So I have no doubt that there is some abuse. But that is a small minority of the folks that we're talking about.

GREENE: Speaking this morning to Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. We really appreciate your time, Congressman. Thanks for coming in.

CASTRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.