White House defends immigration policy amid backlash

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 18, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: DHS is no longer ignoring the law. We are enforcing the laws as they exist on the books. As long as illegal entry remains a criminal offense, DHS will not look the other way. DHS will faithfully execute the laws enacted by Congress as we are sworn to do. As I said earlier today, surely it is the beginning of the unraveling of democracy when the body who makes the laws, instead of changing them, tells the enforcement body not to enforce the law. I asked Congress to ask this week so that we can secure our borders and uphold our humanitarian ideas. These two missions should not be pitted against each other. If we close the loopholes, we can accomplish both.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: The pictures are horrible. The emotions are high. The criticism is all over the place, and the blame game has begun in earnest.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We can do this very quickly if the Democrats come to the table. Everybody wants to do it. We want to do it more than they do.

REP. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT, D-N.Y.: They will try to make us choose between these children and Dreamers.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: Our Democratic friends, every time they have had a chance to vote for a solution, they have voted against it. And so I hope they change their approach.

REP. STENY HOYER, D-MD.: Put it on the floor and let the people's house vote. And yet they slumber still.


BAIER: With that, let's bring in the panel: former CIA analyst and nationally syndicated radio host Buck Sexton; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for National Public Radio, and Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist. Mara, this seems like it's all coming to a head here.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes, and this has been confusing because this was a policy that was meant as a deterrent and described as a deterrent by Jeff Sessions and others. Don't bring your kids here because you're going to get separated from them if you cross illegally. But it turns out that I think President Trump wants credit for being tough on immigration. Today he says we don't want our country to turn into a migrant camp or a holding pen for refugees. But he doesn't want to take responsibility for the unpopular part of the policy which is the separation of kids from their mothers. So he is blaming the Democrats.

BAIER: Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: It's been talked of a deterrent in parts because of what happened as people have learned what previous administrations did in handling this law. So you saw in previous administrations that when people cross the border illegally and then claimed after they were caught they were asylum-seekers, they would just sort of be let go and asked to report back at a later date. A lot people figured out it this was a very good way to get into the country, that you would be able to just pass through if you brought children. That increased the number of children who were used as you were crossing the border.

And so you started to see the number of cases of people crossing this way just skyrocket. So they need to make a deterrent out of this as people have figured out this is a good way to cross. There is a moral cost to not following the nation's laws. There's a moral cost to separating children from their families. And it is important that Democrats and Republicans come together to respect the laws of the land, and they need keep families together.

BAIER: Here is Secretary Nielsen today on those fraudulent claims going up.


NIELSEN: In the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border fraudulently claiming to be a family unit. This is obviously of concern. And separation can occur when the parent is charged with human smuggling. Under those circumstances, we would detain the parent in an appropriate secured detention facility separate from the child.


BAIER: Buck, no matter how you explain it, whether you say they're going to seek asylum, they choose to separate, with the percentage is 314 percent, the images and the emotion around this issue are a political dynamite.

BUCK SEXTON, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: That's why Trump I think understands this has to be handled. You can't have mothers being separated from incredibly young children. I do think there will be a good faith effort to solve that part of it.

But there is a legacy of lawlessness here, and at some point I think it becomes all too apparent that not just the Obama administration but the current Democrat party would prefer a situation where essentially anybody who can get in the country can stay. At some point they have to be willing to answer the question which illegal aliens are no longer allowed to stay in the country?

They created this loophole, really a massive front door entryway into the United States by bringing a child with you, then all of a sudden it became quite easy to stay in the country. So you want to fix the issue of separating parents and children while being processed. But you also do have to enforce the law about people who are coming here illegally, and, by the way, in many cases claiming asylum in bad faith. They are saying what they've been told to say. The word is out. Secretary Nielsen has been addressing that.

The young people who are coming who are unaccompanied, they are in jeopardy. There are many thousands of unaccompanied minors who have showed up to the border without anybody. So that's dangerous for them too. The incentive that was put in place by the Obama administration has to stop. This has to end.

BAIER: The prospects of this forcing some kind of bipartisan solution, did it change? Because last week the prospect of immigration law getting into law, a bill getting into law, was pretty small.

LIASSON: It looked bad. They have been so many attempts over the past year. One was this deal, we'll give you full funding for the wall if you legalize the Dreamers. Now it is something akin to that, but also we want to do something about separating kids from their families. Donald Trump has asked for a 44 percent decrease in legal immigration which the Democrats have balked at. I think that if you've got it down to a pretty skinny bill, wall, Dreamers, kids and family policies, maybe you could get something, but I don't know if that's where Congress is heading.

BAIER: The dreaded "skinny bill." We've heard that so many times before. Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: Senator Ted Cruz has just introduced legislation that would deal with this. The big issue in play is that you can't detain children for more than 20 days. It takes so long to deal with adjudicating these illegal border crossings that then claim asylum that it ends up in family separation. His bill would require that you adjudicate this within two weeks, and if you fail to pass the test, you're deported as of family, and otherwise you can be reunited at that point.

BAIER: We should say Secretary Nielsen made a point to save you go to a port of entry, that you can claim asylum and stay together as a family if there's room.

LIASSON: And if they think you are a real family.

BAIER: And they can check you out as a real family.

Here is a blast from the past, if you will, Hillary Clinton on this issue.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The president's attempt today to stoke fear of immigrants not only in our country but around the world by claiming that migrants in Germany are causing crime. In fact, crime in Germany is at its lowest level since 1992. Nor are these policies rooted in religion. In fact, those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenet of Christianity.


BAIER: It's been a long time, Buck, on this issue, as you can imagine, touching all elements of it today.

SEXTON: Very dishonest in terms of what Mrs. Clinton is presenting as what's happening in Germany. What happened since 1992 in terms of crime doesn't really matter. What matters is what has happened doesn't matter. What has happened in Germany since the massive migrant wave, and there it's quite clear that you have had about a 10 percent increase in violent crime, in homicide, in rapes, the kind of crimes that people care about and notice in a country like Germany where you already had a low once those start to hit the airwaves.

And by the way, I think there is a hesitation in some of these European countries to speak openly about these crimes. We see it in Sweden. We see it in Germany. The press doesn't want to deal with it. She's just wrong on the facts. Rather, she is misconstruing the reality of what's happening by cherry picking what has happened since 1992. They do have some very serious problems in Germany with the migrant wave, serious problems in other parts of Europe as well. And I think Mrs. Clinton knows that, but right now it's better to play to the emotions of --

BAIER: When you have Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush on the same side, on the same issue, does it create some bigger force?

LIASSON: I think Laura Bush was a really extraordinary entry into this debate. She doesn't ever, ever comment on things like this, and she did. The other aspect of that tweet, he went after Angela Merkel. I've never seen a U.S. president do this before. He was suggesting that her hold on power was teetering on the brink because of this. It was almost as if he was echoing his ambassador to Germany who said that he wanted to encourage conservative parties to take over in these countries. That is the kind of meddling that I don't think he would like if a foreign leader did in our polity.

BAIER: Last word, Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: And Angela Merkel is having some political trouble.

LIASSON: She kept her coalition together.

HEMINGWAY: In part because of how she's handled this immigration.

LIASSON: Yes, but he was encouraging that.

BAIER: OK, we'll leave it there.

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