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[00:00:00]

I think it's a slow motion, ongoing, decades long American tragedy. Welcome to Deconstructed. I'm Maggie Hassan. Whatever happened to all those kids who were stolen from their parents at the border? Why don't we just forget about perhaps the biggest scandal, the worst crime of the Trump presidency?

[00:00:24]

It was not thought through. There was no plan. And today we're still picking up the pieces in the aftermath. That's my guest today, Jacob Soboroff, NBC News and MSNBC correspondent and author of the new book Separated Inside an American Tragedy. He's been covering this crisis, the scandal at the border from the very beginning. So on today's show, the war on migrants and especially the theft of migrant children from their parents, how and why did it happen?

[00:00:52]

And is it even truly over? Do you remember this? Oh, that was a recording of 10 Central American children sobbing desperately after being separated from their parents in June of 2018 here in the United States. That was a recording obtained by ProPublica and which promptly went viral and grabbed news headlines. It was even played in the White House briefing room. That recording helped make ordinary Americans aware of the abuses that were being perpetrated at their southern border in their name by the federal government, by the Trump administration specifically and shamefully, the deliberate, systematic separation of thousands of brown skinned migrant children from their parents at the U.S. Mexico border on the orders of President Donald J.

[00:01:48]

Trump.

[00:01:49]

And for a few months in twenty eighteen, what was called child separation was the biggest story in America, if not the world.

[00:01:57]

Families are being torn apart. Thousands of kids taken hundreds, even thousands of miles away from their parents, young children, toddlers even housed in so-called tender age facilities.

[00:02:08]

If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally.

[00:02:14]

The pictures of children being held in what appear to be cages are deeply disturbing.

[00:02:19]

The pope labeling it immoral. Two years later, though, we've kind of moved on as a media industry and as a nation. To be fair, so many other Trump scandals have sucked up so much oxygen since whether it was the government shutdown, the Mueller inquiry, Ukraine and the whole impeachment saga, the attacks on protesters in recent weeks and of course, the ongoing catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, there's just so much to keep track of and to keep us outraged.

[00:02:49]

Still, for me personally, it stands as the biggest, most outrageous, most shocking, most inexcusable scandal of the Trump presidency. So far, what's blandly called child separation was, in fact, racism, kidnapping and child abuse all rolled into one. In fact, Physicians for Human Rights, in a report earlier this year said the Trump family separation policy constituted torture, torture on American soil, the torture of kids, kids. It's difficult to overstate the sheer inhumanity of it all children were forcibly removed from the arms of their parents.

[00:03:30]

Babies were ripped from the breasts of their mothers. And the border agents who did all this somehow went home to their families, to their own kids, and slept fine at night.

[00:03:41]

Meanwhile, the people in Washington who gave them those orders, who made the cruel and inhumane policies, they're either still in government, having never faced any real consequences for their part in these crimes or in the case of former chief of Staff General John Kelly or former Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nillson. They're making money in the private sector. In fact, Kelly is on the board of a company called Caliburn International, which operates shelters for migrant children. You cannot make this shit up.

[00:04:10]

These people are vile.

[00:04:11]

They have no shame. Many current and former members of this administration, including the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, claimed to be evangelical Christians. And yet they have defended, excused the torture and abuse of not just refugees, but refugee children. They're not following in the footsteps of Christ. They're a moral disgrace. Since the summer of 2017, the Trump administration is believed to have taken at least 5500 kids from their parents at the border, although the real number could be even higher than that.

[00:04:43]

No one knows for sure. In February of this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said, quote, It is unclear the extent to which Border Patrol has accurate records of separated families in its data system. And as reporter Jacob Soboroff writes in his new book, Separated Inside an American Tragedy, quote, There are families who were quickly put back together and children who were, as predicted, permanently orphaned. As I pointed out on this show back in 2013, that was not a side effect of having a tough immigration policy.

[00:05:14]

That was their tough immigration policy. That was the goal, the prime objective of an administration filled with white nationalists and apologists for white nationalists, an administration whose immigration policies are drawn up by a man, Stephen Miller, who late last year was revealed to have sent white nationalist literature and racist stories about immigrants in internal emails. No discussion, in fact, about the immigration policies of this administration can be complete without mentioning the racism and white nationalism and just pure cruelty that motivates and drives those policies.

[00:05:50]

So, yes, this administration has used kids, targeted kids, migrant kids, refugee kids, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, the most powerless of the powerless to achieve their policy goals at the border, to crack down on immigration, to placate their far right base and keep brown people out of the U.S. by any means necessary. And here's what's so important to remember as we sit here overwhelmed by news and scandal in this crazy, chaotic summer of 2020, it never really ended.

[00:06:22]

Hundreds of migrant children continue to be detained in facilities across the country this year, even as the coronavirus spread inside of those facilities and infected guards and detainees alike. Last month, a federal judge in L.A. ordered the release of those kids by the middle of this month. And guess how the Trump administration responded on Tuesday by telling the court that if they're forced to release the kids, they won't release any of the parents who they might be detained with. Got that family separation all over again.

[00:06:54]

Imagine being the parents of those kids, keep your kids with you and risk the coronavirus or have them taken from you and sent out into the world. And who knows if you'll ever see them again. What's called child separation is still with us is still a policy dream of the Trump administration and yet a total nightmare for the thousands of refugees and asylum seeker families who arrive in this country from Central America every year, seeking protection from war, from violence, from rape.

[00:07:28]

My guest today is one of the tenacious and I should add, deeply compassionate journalists who helped uncover the Trump administration's vile policy of child torture at the border back in 2018 and who not only contextualize the story for us on our TV screens, but also humanized it. Jacob Soboroff of NBC News and MSNBC was in fact one of the first reporters to gain access to the notorious child detention facilities in Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. Here he is reporting live on MSNBC from outside one of them in the summer of 2018 and not holding back.

[00:08:01]

There's a big mess going on right now. And even the Border Patrol inside this building says they're overstaffed. They don't have enough resources. The system is just getting stressed out because the Trump administration decided to put this into place and the consequences really haven't been worked out. And the biggest consequence of all is thousands of young children in a way that has never been done before and taken from their parents. And when you hear the Trump administration say this has been done before, there's a Democrat policy.

[00:08:28]

This is not unusual.

[00:08:29]

And that's B.S. Frankly, Jacob's reporting earned him the Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television, Political Journalism and with his colleagues, the 2019 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism. Now he's written a powerful and at times heartbreaking new book about the entire saga called Separated Inside an American Tragedy. And he joins me now from Yuma, Arizona, just yards from the southern border with Mexico. Jacob, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed. Thanks. You've written this new book, Separated Inside an American Tragedy, having covered the 2008 crisis at the border with those kids in cages with those children taken from their parents almost exactly two years ago.

[00:09:10]

Is this book, Jacob, about a chapter in recent American history or is this a book about what's still happening right now, an ongoing American tragedy?

[00:09:19]

I think it's a slow motion, ongoing, decades long American tragedy. And this is the first time I've ever done a podcast sitting 20 to 30 yards away from a 30 foot tall border wall installed by President Trump, which is exactly where I'm sitting right now in Yuma as I wait for him to arrive here. You know, the Wall and Donald Trump have become a symbol of the United States immigration policy. This is an immigration policy, however, that has, as I said, spanned decades and Democratic and Republican administrations and since unofficial official Border Patrol doctrine in nineteen ninety four called prevention through deterrence, the goal of which was to deter migrants from coming to the United States, to make them go on a dangerous and deadly journey, were they very well could die trying to get into the United States.

[00:10:09]

Deterrence, pain and suffering has been a part of U.S. immigration policy and family separations, which I had the misfortune of seeing with my own eyes. Was was Donald Trump's extreme extension of that policy?

[00:10:21]

Yes. The extreme extension, as you say, you're right to say that this started on previous presidents watches, you know, Bill Clinton in the 90s, George Bush, Barack Obama, quote unquote, the deporter in chief. And then you have Trump escalating in this grotesque way. A total of around 4300 children, I believe, were, quote unquote, separated from their parents at the border. This all came to a head in May, June 2013.

[00:10:47]

So a question that I think a lot of listeners will want to know the answer to. I know I do. Do we know for sure, Jacob, if all of those children were eventually reunited with their families?

[00:10:58]

We don't. And if it weren't for the ACLU and a federal judge in San Diego, the vast majority of them may never have been. It was a negligent, dangerous approach at putting this policy into place, sloppy and the mechanism by which the separations were tracked. I think it actually would be even generous to call it a mechanism. It was not thought through. There was no plan. And today we're still picking up the pieces in the aftermath. And you mentioned a number in the 4000 range.

[00:11:33]

I think the most recent number, according to the ACLU and this is a constantly evolving number, is over five thousand children, including children, separated after the policy had nominally ended when Donald Trump signed the executive order on June 20th. Twenty eighteen, ending a policy that days earlier, he said didn't even exist.

[00:11:52]

Yes, first it didn't exist. And then when they stopped, it still carried on, as you point out, even after the the judicial and executive order fallout.

[00:12:01]

Let me ask you this one thing that bothers me and I don't want to knock the title of your excellent book because I know how hard it is to come up with a title. And I know that separated is the word that's being used by everyone, even by me on occasion as shorthand to describe this zero tolerance policy at the border and what the Trump administration did to migrant families back in 2013. But for me, separated always feels like an understatement. It feels to clinical empty word because.

[00:12:27]

What happened was child theft, it was child kidnapping. It was in many ways child abuse by the U.S. government. And I worry sometimes that our journalistic shorthand often end up underplaying how bad things are on the ground. They sanitize things too much. Am I being unfair?

[00:12:42]

No, I think your point is well taken. And the reason I chose separated as well is that for me, it doesn't just describe torture, frankly. And that's the word that Physicians for Human Rights and Nobel Peace Prize winning organization has used subsequently to describe what these children went through. It meant the clinical definition of torture, but it also described most Americans mental separation from how we got to this point, inability to understand and comprehend. Good point. How the government did this to children, in some cases babies.

[00:13:15]

And that also includes me. I was covering the border even before Donald Trump became president, when when Barack Obama was president and was dubbed the deporter in chief, as you mentioned by immigration activists, I was on the what I thought was the front lines of immigration reporting. And frankly, I completely missed it myself until it slapped me in the face. And that's what I wanted to make clear in the book, is that separate is not just the physical act.

[00:13:38]

What happened to these parents and children, but it really also is a mental state of most Americans about the way that we deal with immigration in this country. So, again, your point is well taken. I think that it's much more vile what happened to these children than the simple word or simple act of being taken from their parents. But I think that the word also applies to many of us in our everyday lives.

[00:14:01]

Now, that's a very fair point. And I would urge everyone to read Jacob's book. It's an excellent book. You tell the story of Jose in the book, A Young Boy from northern Guatemala. That story is a central thread. Throughout your book, he fled with his father, one to the United States in order to escape drug traffickers who were threatening his family. Can you tell us a little bit more about Jose? Why did you choose his story?

[00:14:22]

Well, the truth of the matter is, and this is a bit of a spoiler, but I ultimately met his father, Juan and Jose, our pseudonyms, that they picked themselves to protect their own identity and the identity of their family that they left behind in Guatemala. But they come from the northern state of B10 and and Pétain, which is actually a place I haven't been to. And they asked me not to go to. I've been to Guatemala on several occasions, but I didn't go to their home because they were worried about what might happen to their wife.

[00:14:48]

They left behind. They were threatened with violence. Juan was the owner of a small convenience store and basically got into trouble after a vehicle that he sold was sold to someone else and fell into the hands of what he tells me and told the United States government an asylum application. Where were narco traffickers? He suspected. And until he would turn over the rights, the documentation which he no longer had to his car, they were going to put a threat on his life.

[00:15:14]

And so he decided to pick up and leave with Jose, come to the United States, go to Arizona, where he had crossed twice successfully before, to come in to work earlier in his life when his son was was younger, but for the first time decided to pick up and leave with his boy to protect him. And once they got to the United States, to the place where they thought represented safety and security, I'm actually sitting probably 10 miles away from that exact spot right now.

[00:15:39]

And the president will visit almost that exact spot as I speak to you today as we record this, they were taken from each other in a way that nobody could have ever anticipated, even know what was going on. By the time they left Guatemala and started their journey to the United States in May of twenty eighteen.

[00:15:56]

So it's interesting, you mention in the context of one that he had crossed twice earlier before for work. This time he came to protect his child. We have this great debate, of course, as you know better than me, about all these people, refugees and asylum seekers, or are they all economic migrants coming to work in your anecdotal experience, having interviewed so many of these people, having covered their stories, what were they? What were them, especially back in twenty eighteen when it kind of hit these hit the headlines in that huge way with everyone in the country talking about why have they brought children with them, et cetera, et cetera?

[00:16:26]

How many of them, how many people you were talking to were in, you know, the story you just tell of one that sounds like a genuine asylum application and I have no reason to doubt them, you know, and I think the vast majority of people I came into contact with were coming to the United States from Central America, from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador in order to seek asylum.

[00:16:47]

You know, I've been thinking a lot about this. And when I was writing the book, I was thinking a lot about this, that that nobody's perfect. And actually, when I heard the Reverend Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy for George Floyd and use the biblical example of a reject stone becoming the cornerstone in our conversation about about race and about police brutality and violence, it made me think of covering immigration at the border. Nobody is perfect. Nobody comes here with a sparkling clean record or the perfect story that you want to hold up and make an example to change the entire country's imagination on immigration.

[00:17:22]

Yes, he had come here before, twice illegally. He freely admitted it to me and he laughed and. Smiled when he said they didn't catch me previously, and I think it's not mutually exclusive, you can be an economic migrant and also later in your life become a refugee from violence. And I think too often we boil it down to it's one or the other. Yes, but these stories often intersect. And I think we do a disservice or the general public does a disservice when when we try to distill it to one or another, because oftentimes it really isn't the case.

[00:17:51]

And it's not just Latin American families that we're talking about. Of course, you describe a Congolese mother and her daughter who were separated trying to enter the U.S. You say, quote, The mother was taken to an adult immigration jail in San Diego and her daughter was sent to a shelter in Chicago. You also say that when she was told her daughter was in Chicago, she did not know what the word meant. How do people like that woman and her daughter end up at the southern border?

[00:18:14]

And how is their story different to some of the more familiar Latin American stories that you tell in your reporting?

[00:18:21]

Well, I think that the southern border has become an entry point from people from around the world looking to seek refuge in the United States and seek asylum. And if it wasn't for that Congolese woman and her daughter, who later became known as Miss El, none of these five thousand plus families would have been reunited because she became the plaintiff, the original plaintiff in the ACLU case against against the government. And so what happened to her? And her story was slightly different.

[00:18:48]

She presented legally at the San Ysidro port of entry in between San Diego and Tijuana, where you can legally walk up and declare asylum as part of an internationally recognized legal process. And the United States government told her they didn't believe her, took her away from her daughter, and not until a DNA test confirmed it would take place back together. But that wasn't soon enough to stop the thousands of separations from happening. And that's another example. Many of it's it's never a perfect story.

[00:19:16]

She thought she was doing it the right way, but the United States government challenged her on that. And it set off this whole chain of events.

[00:19:22]

I think we've learned over the last four years that for this administration, there is no right way of claiming asylum or coming into the country. They just don't want people coming into the country. You describe in the book the moment in June 2013 when then Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielson infamously tweeted, We do not have a policy of separating families at the border, period. You say in the book, my eyes widened when I saw it. You've got to be kidding.

[00:19:45]

I thought, come on, where were you at that moment? And why did that tweet from her so stunned you?

[00:19:52]

Because earlier that week, I was inside the McAllen Border Patrol processing center. They call it Ursula in the Border Patrol, and that's in McAllen, south Texas, where they let us in. Katy Waldman, who later became Katy Miller, the wife of Steven Miller and now the vice president's communications director, was at the time as spokesperson for Christie Mills. And she invited me and another group of journalists into that center to see with our own eyes what family separations looked like, because I think they believed that with outrage from the general public based on media attention, Congress would do what the Trump administration wanted, which was pass more restrictive border regulations.

[00:20:32]

Of course, that backfired. And the reason that I was was so flabbergasted by what Kirsten Nielsen tweeted is that days earlier, if not if not hours earlier, I had been inside the center where I saw with my own eyes separated children sitting on concrete floors covered by the silver blankets under a security contractor in a watchtower. It makes me sick every time I talk about it, gives me the chills every time I talk about it as they are not the father of a two year old boy.

[00:21:02]

It was. It was. And I don't know. I really don't know either way to describe it, other than disgusted to see social workers standing around Border Patrol agents not allowed to touch the children, all because of official government policy when many of the families in there didn't know what they were about to experience themselves to this day leaves me speechless. And to hear the secretary of homeland security, who I didn't know at the time, but I now know in writing the book and signed the policy into place, it is just wrong.

[00:21:34]

There's no other way to say it.

[00:21:35]

I mean, this is an administration that says openly, don't believe the evidence in front of your eyes, don't believe what you see with your own eyes and don't believe what you hear with your own ears. It's the gaslighted in chief. You say early in the book, you sum things up this way. You say, quote, What I have now unequivocally learned is that the Trump administration's family separation policy was an avoidable catastrophe made worse by people who could have made it better at multiple inflection points.

[00:22:00]

In what sense, Jake, was avoidable, given that we already had a president clearly bent on implementing harsh border policies who will not around him could have stopped it?

[00:22:09]

Well, in particular, Scott Lloyd, who was the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, was warned on multiple occasions about the damage, the long lasting trauma the family separations would do to children. And ostensibly, this was the man who was the. Out of the thousands of migrant children in the custody of the United States government, and in particular Jonathan White, commander in the US Public Health Commission Corps under Health and Human Services, has testified publicly to this that he warned Scott Lloyd about the long lasting damage that separation's will do to these children.

[00:22:45]

Scott Lloyd, of course, is the same official who tried to ban abortions in HHS custody for young migrant girls. And the bottom line is, when you look at the actions of Scott like he did anything but stop family separations from happening, one official later told me that he believed that this was the greatest human rights catastrophe of his lifetime in seeing this take place under the leadership of Scott Lloyd and had the career officials in HHS child welfare professionals whose motto is not only to do no harm, like in the medical profession, but to put the best interests of the clients first.

[00:23:22]

And that's the children. This never would have happened in the best interests of the children were very obviously not put first here. The officials in HHS and the professionals were certainly pushing for that all along.

[00:23:33]

And there were a lot of people involved in this process, none of whom resigned on principle, none of whom came out and became a whistleblower at that time, which says a lot about how certain people's morals are corrupted working in this administration. Just to go back to an earlier point you made about this being a decades long tragedy, a lot of Trump officials and Trump supporters and some on the left say it's unfair to pin what you call an American tragedy wholly on Trump because it was the Obama administration that built many of the cages that we used in eighteen.

[00:24:02]

It was the Obama administration that put unaccompanied minors from Central America in detention. There was a big overlap between a lot of their policies and practices at the southern border between those two administrations. What do you say to them?

[00:24:14]

Well, in some measure, they're right. I mean, the Obama administration did build the McAllen Border Patrol processing center where I saw the children in cages. Those cages were built by the Obama administration and they believe that was the best option at the time. Certainly activists and immigration rights lawyers and such didn't believe that and were extremely vocal in voicing their opposition at the time. The Trump administration had the opportunity to go in a different direction. They never signaled that that was their intention.

[00:24:44]

And they always signaled a harsher immigration policy than the Obama administration. But they didn't have to institute the family separation policy. The Obama administration considered implementing the family separation policy. Some of the same officials within the Department of Homeland Security brought it up. And in the book, I talk about how on Valentine's Day, twenty, seventeen, less than a month into the Trump administration, some of the officials that overlapped from the Obama administration into the Trump administration basically revived resuscitator the policy and rejected discarded policy that even the Obama administration, which was was not beloved by immigration activists, puts it aside.

[00:25:24]

And and this was a conscious, deliberate decision by the Trump administration to move forward with something that they knew all along was a deterrence policy that was that was so bad it would try to scare people away from coming to the United States. And John Kelly, when he was the secretary of homeland security in March of twenty seventeen, admitted freely on on CNN.

[00:25:44]

So just to be clear, what Trump did in twenty eighteen at the border with these quote unquote separations is much worse than anything Obama or for that matter, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton did at the border. That is fair to say, based on your own reporting and research in this book.

[00:25:59]

Well, the reason I say that this was unprecedented was that it was it was systematic child abuse, in the words of Physicians for Human Rights or American Academy of Pediatrics at the hands of the Trump administration, deliberate, systematic child abuse or torture. The Obama administration, the Clinton administration, the Bush administration all had their own very harsh deterrence policies. I'm sitting in Arizona now where hundreds of people have died trying to cross in the desert because of border infrastructure walls like the ones I'm looking at in front of my face as I talk to you.

[00:26:30]

But never was the policy directed specifically at children for the purpose of hurting parents and children. And therein is the difference. I mean, that's where the Trump administration took it to a level that had never been seen before. It doesn't mean that for a long time there haven't been cruel, harsh and deadly immigration policies.

[00:26:50]

But in this case, it was a stated policy to cause harm in order to stop people from coming, that's for sure.

[00:26:55]

And they would never admit that that this was the purpose was to hurt children. But when you say deterrence, you have to be deterred by something. And there's something here which was trauma.

[00:27:06]

So you paint a picture in the book of a president who shock horror is over is he's out he's out of control, but he also doesn't know what he's doing. There's a huge culture of fear around him. You say in the White House, you talk about the chaos surrounding this policy. Obviously, we know very much about the Trump administration's incompetence when it comes to any area of public. Policy, but in my view, there's also not enough discussion in our industry, Jacob, in the quote unquote liberal media about the ideology that drives a lot of Trump's immigration policy.

[00:27:37]

This is not just them trying to look tough or messing up. You have a White House that openly plays footsie with white nationalists and a top Trump adviser, Stephen Miller, who leads on this issue and who is at best an apologist for white nationalism, at worst, a card carrying white nationalist himself. This is a guy who is the Southern Poverty Law Center. The policy has thoroughly documented by his own leaked emails, has promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols.

[00:28:06]

And yet we just don't talk about it as much as we should. It's like we're too polite to mention the open white nationalism from this White House when we talk about immigration and border controls.

[00:28:17]

Another way to put it is that the target of the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies are more often than not, brown people who come through the southern border where the majority of people who enter this country illegally or ultimately stay in this country illegally come the airplane from countries other than Central America or Latin America by overstaying visas. And the Trump administration has not or did not at that time target visa overstays as their primary concern when that was by definition by numbers where most people who work in the United States, quote unquote, illegally, were coming from.

[00:28:56]

The policy has always been the ire has always been targeted, people with a different skin color coming from the southern border and not the majority of people who are entering the country and staying in the country illegally. And you said it. I mean, that's that's why this policy is or was, I guess you could still say is the same as liberation is still happening. Racist. I mean, this is not a policy that is being targeted at people who are flying here and staying here after going to school or getting a job or some other form of of immigration to the United States is targeting people who come to the southern border, period.

[00:29:32]

Just to clarify for our listeners, you say family separation is still happening. Just briefly, how is it still happening?

[00:29:38]

Well, the Trump administration is giving families an option either separate or be deported or held indefinitely in family detention. That's called binary choice. And it's the type of policy that's being put forward. You won't be surprised to learn many that nobody is selecting family separation as an option when they're presented with it. But it is still an option that the Trump administration is giving migrants in custody. It's a catch 22 situation. Either get kicked out of the country and your child stays here.

[00:30:04]

Could be an indefinite family detention with your child or separated from your child. Let your child go free, but you won't see your child because you'll you'll continue to be detained.

[00:30:13]

It's just family separation with a different mechanism and the quote unquote, family separation crisis of 2013. I think we would agree Jacob was one of the biggest crises, one of the most horrifying episodes of the Trump presidency. And given how many big crises and horrific episodes there have been over the past four years, that's a pretty high bar that it meant even by the standard of awful Trump scandals, this one stood out and yet he survived. The people around him survived.

[00:30:39]

A lot of people just forgot about it. WASHINGTON The media largely moved on. If we hadn't moved on, if there'd been consequences for the lies, the law breaking, the racism, the child abuse, do you think we might have avoided or even been better prepared for many of the other Trump crises that have since followed it?

[00:30:58]

It's such a good question. I would like to think so. But that goes back to the separation from the American public about what's happening and why. And so often I find that to many of us are disconnected from the reality of what's going on in our country. It's too easy to look around in our own neighborhood and talk about our own concerns versus what's happening at the border. I'll give you one example. I went to Tornero where they had that tent city in the wake of the separation crisis and how the migrant boys housed there.

[00:31:26]

And I read about this in the book, I asked a local farmer, growing pomegranates what his main concern was. And he said the production of food and this was a man there was a stone's throw away from thousands of kids being locked up in a tent in 100 degree heat in the middle of the south Texas desert.

[00:31:43]

And, you know, I'll never I'll never forget that because, you know, if he's going to forget about it or if it's not going to be top of mind for him, it isn't going to be for people in suburban America either. And which is why I think it's just so important to me to write this book, not just to remind people of this, but to answer those questions for myself. How could this possibly have happened? How could we possibly have moved on?

[00:32:05]

And what is it going to take for this to not happen again?

[00:32:08]

Well, I'm so glad you wrote the book. And one of the issues that really bothers me is there's been very little accountability for the main players in this saga. Former Trump chief of staff, former DHS Secretary General John Kelly went off to work in the private sector. He even joined the board of Caliburn International, a company that operates the largest. Shelter for unaccompanied migrant children. Oh, the irony, his successor as DHS secretary, Kirsten Nielsen, was invited as recently as October last year to speak at Fortune magazine's most powerful women summit in Washington, D.C..

[00:32:39]

That doesn't seem to have been much accountability, not just no accountability.

[00:32:44]

Many, but some of these people have been put in charge of the response, or at least on the team to the coronavirus outbreak that's killed over one hundred thousand people in this country and the early days of the coronavirus crisis. I remember sitting at home on lockdown like everybody else watching up on the podium, Chad, Wolf, now the acting secretary of homeland security, then a top deputy to Kirsten Nielsen, who as my colleague Julia Ainslee first reported, was involved in the drafting of the initial family separation policy to be presented to her.

[00:33:12]

Katy Waldman, as I mentioned, was the spokeswoman for Kirsten Nielsen and is now the spokeswoman for the vice president of the United States. It seems as though the people that were involved in the family separation policy have not been disciplined or reprimanded or face accountability. On the contrary, they've been elevated to the positions that you mentioned. John Kelly started working with Caliburn, this company that is profiting off of the detention of child migrants at multiple facilities. Now along that along the southwest border.

[00:33:42]

I would say that it's baffling and stupefying. But again, it's just like you said, it's another one of these consequence, less options of the Trump administration that they seem to benefit from when common sense would say they should they should be punished.

[00:33:58]

By the way, that Fortune Summit, my good friend Amna Nawaz of PBS News asked Kirsten Nielsen if she regretted the so called family separation policy.

[00:34:07]

I'm asking you if you regret making that decision. I don't regret enforcing the law because I took an oath to do that, as did everybody at the Department of Homeland Security. We don't make the laws. We ask Congress to change the law. Congress review the law in twenty six and decided to continue to make it illegal to cross in that manner.

[00:34:24]

When you hear Nielsen saying that, Jacob, what's your reaction? The same bewilderment that I felt when I saw her tweet that there is no family separation policy period. I thought of that interview, by the way, was spectacular in the line of questioning was perfect because Kirschen Nielsen is an expert in slipping away from questions about the family separation policy. If anyone should face accountability for the policy, it is her she had to decide to sign. And I outlined it in the book, a decision memo that sat on her desk with three options to implement the end of what is known as catch and release.

[00:35:00]

The idea that migrants who come to the southern border would be released to the interior with their families until their immigration case would be adjudicated in the courts, until they had to show up for court. And by the way, many migrants, most migrants do show up for that process because they want to obtain asylum in this country. She chose, of the three options, the most severe, the most punitive family separations. It was a deliberate and clear decision by her.

[00:35:25]

She had to sign her name literally on the dotted line for the policy and the idea that she doesn't face any responsibility for this and that it wasn't something that she ultimately would come to regret. I just don't believe it. I don't knowing what I know about her having sat face to face with her at the start of this policy, I do not believe that that is truly the way that she feels. And I know certainly that she knows the responsibility that she bears for it.

[00:35:51]

And like every Trump official, especially once he leaves office, everyone is going to be spinning how they were actually resisting inside the administration. They were the good guys pushing back against awful policies from the top. And we focus a lot on Trump and we should focus also on these ex Trump officials who are trying to rehabilitate themselves. They should really be shunned by polite society. But sadly, we know Washington, DC, they won't be they aren't being shunned.

[00:36:15]

That's depressing. One last question for you, Jacob. Given what you saw with your own eyes, what you heard in terms of testimony from some of these parents and children, the trauma of it, as you put it, how hard a book was this for you to write? Certainly not as hard as being separated from your child and definitely in the minds of a lot of these parents, it was it was difficult to revisit. But it's covering family separations is something that will have changed me forever for my entire life.

[00:36:42]

I think there's a lot of people out there who haven't watched the story, not just from my coverage, but from the wonderful journalism that was done during and after this policy. Know, it's changed a lot of people. And for me, this was something that I wanted to do to answer questions that I didn't know the answer to in real time. And it's also something that I wanted to do for One and Hosie, because the reason that they decided to participate in the story with me was so that it never happens again.

[00:37:07]

And and I really mean that.

[00:37:09]

And I don't know if it's kosher to say that as a journalist covering this and writing this book, you know, for me has a specific and what I hope is a positive outcome. But that's really what this was about for me. And and to revisit it was was difficult, but it's nothing compared to what one in Hosie and 5000 other children went through.

[00:37:31]

Jacob, congratulations on an important book. Thank you so much for joining me on Deconstructed. Thank you, Mary.

[00:37:36]

Appreciate it. That was Jacob Soboroff, author of the new book Separated Inside an American Tragedy. And that's our show. And we're going to be on a little bit of a summer break here on Deconstructed. The show will be back in August. Hope you're all able to have a break to stay safe while we're gone. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Brian Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshel.

[00:38:06]

Betsy Reed is The Intercept editor in chief. And I'm Maggie Hassan. You can follow me on Twitter at the Hussan if you haven't already. Please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to the intercept dot com forward slash deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast Platform of Choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you're subscribed already, please do leave it Arati or review. It helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Podcast's at the Intercept Dotcom.

[00:38:32]

Thanks so much. See you next month.

[00:38:46]

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