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Border & Immigration

Roundtable: President Pivots On Immigration, Zero-Tolerance Policy Remains

President Donald Trump signs an executive order to end family separations, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
Associated Press
President Donald Trump signs an executive order to end family separations, during an event in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
Roundtable: President Pivots On Immigration, Zero-Tolerance Policy Remains
PANEL: Jean Guerrero, investigative reporter, KPBS News Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS News Michael Smolens, columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune Maya Srikrishnan, immigration reporter, Voice of San Diego

The president reverses course this week after national uproar over children being detained and separated from their families. What is that mean for the zero tolerance policy toward illegal immigration? details are scarce and confusion rains -- range. >> The dream is fading for many older Californians to retire. >> The roundtable starts now. >> Welcome to our discussion. I am Mark Sauer. Joining me is Michael Smolen's column is from the San Diego Union Tribune. Jean, a reporter for KPBS. Investigator reporter of KPBS news. And Maia who cared -- covers immigration and voice of San Diego. The nation's conscience was assaulted by images and audio of kids separated from parents. Kids in cages as well youngsters sobbing taken away from their parents. >> That child is crying for her to dad and asking if they can go with her aunt. In the and Donald Trump and immigration -- and immigration hardliners were forced to backdown. The confusion hardly ends there. Trumps latest executive order really doesn't settle everything does it? >> So he said he did not like the site or feeling of the separations, so he said he is ending them, at the same time he is leaving in place, the zero tolerance policy that led to these family separations happening in mass numbers in the first place. Because they criminally prosecutes everyone who comes across the border illegally. So what the executive order proposes, is detaining these families, together. The problem with that is that there is a federal district court ruling, known as the Florez settlement from 1997 which limits the amount of time, that children can be detained to 20 days. Currently, the administration is seeking an amendment to the settlement. It is unclear what the judge is going to say, in the meantime there more than 2000 children who have been separated from their parents. And there is no plan in place to reunite them. >> We will get to a lot of us later. Maia, tell us how do we get to this point of separating children? >> We first started seeing some the separations back in 2017. The administration had a pilot project in Texas, and in April, Jeff sessions announced they will be criminally prosecuting everyone including parents who cross the border illegally. As a result, this up -- the separation surged because of these parents are getting taken into federal custody for their court hearings, and children cannot be with them. >> We need to distinguish and sometimes it gets lost in the story, though seeking asylum from people who simply cross the border illegally. >> There's not necessarily always a distinction. So to be able to seek asylum, you have to be on U.S. soil, it does not matter how you get there. Even if you have crossed the border illegally in your being criminally prosecuted, after you got your criminal proceedings you still have a right to asylums -- and asylum hearing. >> A small percentage of those are granted right? >> Yes, it's not easy especially for the groups of people who are coming now. Like central Americans a lot of them do not get asylum. >> Speaking on this asylum issue, it got even more restrictive recently right? >> A majority of central Americans that came here to seek asylum are fleeing getting violence and women who are fleeing domestic violence. Now the Trump administration is saying, those are no longer qualifications for asylum. You can no longer apply for asylum if you are just fleeing getting violence or domestic violence. So it looks like it will get a lot more complicated for these people to win their claims. >> Michael I want to get into the politics of this, and what trumps political scheme or plan was on this. Will start with the bite on house minority leader Nancy Pelosi visiting a detention center. >> He's using these children to advance a bad policy. As well as inflame his base. This is red meat for his base. I think he underestimates the dignity of his base when he says, I can go to the most extreme place, at the border, and that extreme place is taking children away from their parents. That is not the American way. >> All right, so, was there a plan or political plan that was written this week that the idea was to get leverage into this talks about Doctor and others -- D a CA? >> Some people thought that this was an effective deterrent strategy. If you separate children from their parents, parents coming up with twice. Because a lot of them don't have anything. All they have is their children. There was some anecdotal evidence that people were having second thoughts. The larger project -- idea was to get his law and other things legally and trying to do this with the DAC a recipients. But that hasn't gone anywhere.'s reversal is interesting. That's about the control of Congress. The morality and public outcry aside, and that has had some effect, but the key thing to me, is not when the administers, or religious people or even some of his supporters, it was when the national Republican Congressional committee came out, before a lot of politicians and say you have to do something about that. They're not concerned about policy they're concerned about politics. Not a silly that Trump cares about House Republicans but he's concerned and has to be to lose the house the Democrats. Because that appends his whole agenda. It can be blocked and you will see articles of impeachment. His world would change a lot from total control he has now. I think that really is what is driving this as much as anything. As you know, I said here several times I'm a bit of a skeptic. Is this blue wave surge really giving Democrat the house? I think this issue would have if it kept up. And maybe it will keep up, as he been saying here, it will going to be going. >> It will be interesting to see the irony is that this policy, that Trump road to the top on immigration, and scapegoating immigrants quite wrinkly, if that will wind up being his downfall. >> It would be an irony that, but as you or Pelosi were saying, he thought he could go as far as he wanted and he has some very extreme people advising him. And there's a certain policy, that somehow, they knew some perspective of politics in swing districts. They know how to inflame their base and that's who Trump plays two. Is worked for him to a large degree. >> Separating children from their parents at the border a lot of people did support that policy. >> You alluded to this, chief of staff John Kelly talked about children being taken care of and being put in foster care whatever. Talked earlier that this is a deterrent as you noted Trump associate was marking a child with Down syndrome taking away from apparent. Again, do you think that there is the price that this is in the background? >> I think some are, this worked along the way, I don't know if he has a lot of real political people advising him. He has true believers. Ultimately, all the people surrounding him and he knows what he's doing and he knows a hot buttons he's trying to push. It comes down to what it means to Trump. He realizes if they lose the house that he's getting in trouble. >> You toured youth migrant facility in El Cajon over the week. Tell us what you saw there. To his house there and what are the conditions? >> It houses 65 boys. All boys facility, ages 6-17. It was a very controlled tour. We couldn't bring in any audio or video recording equipment. We were not allowed to speak to any of the children. We can interview any of them. We were able to see them, in classrooms reading, engaging with the teachers, outside there is a small blacktop area kind of sandwich between the two main buildings where they got to play soccer and we saw them playing. But it was really hard to get a sense of where their real emotional state was because we could not speak to them or get their first-hand experience. I saw some of the drawings on the walls of the bedrooms that kind of spoke to that. Little quotations like when you're sad remember that God loves you. But again, it was hard to get a sense and 10% of these boys had been separated from their parents, and we wanted to find out how that changed operations for the Center. It look like the shelter was run by people who cared about these kids. But the thing is, they're dealing with this massive increase of children who have been separated from the parents. They not only have to deal with the traumas of these children fleeing violence at home but also on top of that not knowing where their parents are, and not being able to communicate with them. >> There's been so much talk nationally on where the girls? were they being housed? have you heard of any places with in San Diego where the girls are? >> There are also girl shelters run by Southwest Key the same nonprofit. That ran the one that I visited. That in San Diego. I've asked to be allowed into one of them. So far, they're saying no. And that's the response of their giving all journalists. You cannot see the girls. You can't see the girls. I don't know why that is. They're very concerned about the privacy of the children, and I think that is kind of why these tours have been very controlled. But nobody has been able to see the girls. >> The shelters have been a source of the public outcry. Damages, we've seen the kids under the foil blankets and crying that we just heard. And there's some other shelters which there has been legal action in some of the affidavits have come out and made it really sort of astounding what's going on. And Shenandoah Valley and in Texas, where these kids about problems mostly a previous shelters, and then moved. And not necessarily saying their troubled kids but they were handcuffed and chained and bound to chairs. And some reports of hoods being put over these kids. And drug did to keep them under control. It sounds horrible. That on top of everything else, really in flames things. They really had to do something. One of the questions is how long is our attention span. Is not very long. Trump sign this thing, he didn't have to. He could've made a phone call. Now, we said okay as public is that over? do we move on to other things? does that remain -- that remains to be seen. As folks here have been saying, this is not going to be resolved anytime soon in terms of separation. >> I think we kind of need to pay attention to what happens next. Family detention has not been proven to be a great solution either. There's a huge shortage of it. One of the things the Attorney General is asking to amend is the Florez agreement limitations, as that is -- facilitation still have to comply with state standards. Part of the reason why, there is a lot of disparity between the different shelters, is because, the state standards as well. The problematic shelters are in certain states, where other states have more oversight and higher standards and things like that. >> In these 2300 children that are still separated, I know that number is an estimate. Are they tracking them? will they be reunited sooner or later? >> We don't really know. There doesn't really seem to be a system in place, to reunify families. What's happening, is that we have seen a lot of anecdotes come out about parents who been deported, and their children remain in the U.S., and essentially what happens is when these children are separated from the parents, the government treats them as though they are unaccompanied minors make a loan. So they start an entirely separate legal procedure, and it is really difficult. My understanding, is even to get the child back, sometimes they have to have things from their parents or family members in their home country which are difficult to get. Like they have to fax letters and get birth certificates and things like that. When you are poor and living in a rural area in Guatemala is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. >> That's a big worry that these kids will not be reunited. Some of them or many of them won't be reunited with their parents. Though the civil rights Project is representing 300 parents. So far they've only been able to track down to children and the government has not allowed the parents to have a phone conversation with the children and has not even offered information on where those children are except to say, yes they are within government custody. There is another lawyer that represents more than two dozen parents, and she has not been able to find one child. So, a lot depends on how much cooperation is being given by the government. The other part in terms of the question of how long this remains on the public's radar, I think so much depends on whether these kids are reunified. That is what has caused the biggest up war is that they are separated. They don't get reunify that's a huge issue. >> In the midst of public official -- opinion, the record percentage of Americans say immigration is positive for the country overall. 75% immigration is good for the nation, others that it's bad. The base whipping rhetoric? >> The public make the distinction -- distinction between illegal and legal immigration. His rhetoric, Mr. Trump, is they've talked about welcoming in their own way. So if you look back at that maybe in certain times it has not been as well but immigration and the notion of immigration in a legal sense, is something that the U.S. has supported and a nicely regulated way. We don't do that very well. When the questions are illegal immigration, does it become a lot more difficult to assess the public view as to how strongly they oppose, most do. But how strong measures do they oppose or support? >> The real emphasis on the Trump administration that they're talking about asylum-seekers who have crossed illegally. They say if you want to ask for asylum, and not be separated from your children, present yourself at the port of entry. But my reporting has shown, there is several cases, of asylum-seekers who has presented themselves legally at the ports of entry asked for asylum, and were separated anyway. This started happening ever since the former John Kelly said they were considering this as a deterrent strategy. And that was happening whether you crossed legally or illegally. >> There's also a lot of asylum-seekers not being able to get through. Border officials saying, they cannot get to react or they are at capacity. So you have people that are being funneled to the ports of entry. For variety of reasons are ending up having to wait weeks, or up to a month just to be able to get to the door to make their asylum claim. >> Does this discussion ever get away from border walls and ports of entry and legal and illegal and broader aspects what's going on in other countries where these folks are fleeing? and what conditions? >> Yes, that is a discussion that's been out there for a long time. Everything is cyclical to try to improve the economies in these countries. A lot of these countries, in addition to the poor economic conditions, the criminal element, is almost vying with the government for control and certainly some areas. Gang violence is a big concern. I'm not a expert but there are certain things we can do to help other countries economies. Is a heavy task with conditions in some of these countries. >> Bringing it back to this country, their employers who are seeking these migrants. From other countries. They are asking them to come back and work for them knowing the process they have to get through to get here. >> Many more angles and a lot more stories. I don't think it will go away. There will be a lot of angles working through this election year. >> They graduated college, worked hard for decades and set aside funds for retirement. For growing number of Californians that was not enough. The cost of living here have dashed the dreams of trying to spend their golden years in the Golden State. How many seniors are failing in this? >> 1 in 5 seniors in the state is living in poverty. California has the highest in seniors if you exclude Washington DC where I think it's around 20%. You see evidence of that and other figures that's available for instance, 26% of Californians between 65 and 74 are still working. And that's double what it was in the 1970s and 1980s. 19% of Californians 75 and older are still working. The reason is, is the high cost of living in the state. Housing costs, healthcare costs, energy costs, and the decline in companies offering pensions has made it very, very difficult for seniors, to be able to cover their expenses. >> So you had some enlightening statistics in your story. What percentage of income are we talking about for housing costs? >> For renters, it's around 19%. 19%. Okay, so 37% seniors are spending 37% of their income on rent. And seniors who rent homes are spending 19%. Overall, and the state just in Californians, more than half of renters are spending 50% or more of their income know I'm sorry more than half of renters are spending 30% or more. Which is considered housing burdens. And a full third are spending more than 50%. That's pretty high. >> It speaks to you, I know when we have been looking at homeless numbers over the past few years there's a huge bulk of the seniors of homeless seniors. And I think a lot of people in the tents in the cities art seniors. >> They are the highest segment and highest growing segment of the homeless population across the state. There is really a direct correlation between the housing costs, and people becoming homeless. There is a stat out by cello saying Los Angeles County for every 5% increase in rent, you have an additional 2000 people who become homeless. >> You interviewed several people who are in this situation. One retiree was in good wind -- and put savings away talk --. >> She worked 35 years as a sales representative. When you work as a sales representative, your employment is not always stable. She lost a couple of jobs here and there. She was unemployed so she would dig into her retirement savings and she got ill she dug a little bit more into her retirement savings and then she was diagnosed re-four years ago with brain cancer. Now she receives Social Security, she get $2000 a month in Social Security, her expenses are 2400. So, she is basically selling her things on eBay to make think -- ends meet. Friends are helping her out with gift cards for grocery stores and she has a couple who sends her $200 each month to help her out a little bit. Now, her rent is about to go up 50%. >> I saw that in your article. In my eyes popped out. We've been talking about this for a long time income insecurity among working people. They feel like they're living paycheck to paycheck. Any modest think and send them into a tailspin. People that don't have that kind of incomes -- income face that much more. It's frightening. Are there any kind of creative solutions people are talking about? combining resources? living together? >> The second one I spoke to, she works full-time as a realtor, and she's gonna turn somebody next month. She said, if push comes to shove and my health gives, I will move in with a friend. She has discussed it with her friend. >> We have a bite from her let's hear what she had to say marigolds. >> I feel betrayed. [crying] I just do. I don't think it is just necessarily a feminine thing, I think there should've been some education along the way you know? everybody is afraid of growing old, so no one talks about these things. We were expected to get married, and that was gonna solve all our problems. In my case, it did not have been. >> So the case of marigolds, I asked her, that was a response to my question of you know, what did you envision for retirement. And she said she wanted to have dinner parties and spend time with friends and tend to my garden. And then I said, how did it turn out? and then she said you can see. And then I asked her how she felt about it and she said she felt betrayed. She said, if things don't work out should move in with friends. In the case of good wind, her apartment building was bought by another company. She plans to speak with them today to explain her situation. Her brain cancer has come back. She has to have surgery, she is asking for a little bit of mercy from her landlord and we will see how that turns out. >> We only have a short time left. I wanted to get the whole idea this is not just seniors. You done other stories and it's hitting all Californians. >> I spoke to another woman who tracks her expenses, she and her husband have two children, they bring in $4200 month. Her rent has gone up $400 in the last four years and it's about to go up another hundred dollars. She spending more than half of her income on rent. After food, clothing, and other repairs, they have she said she's down $10 each month. Her goals to set aside hundred dollars each month, but she's always short $10. >> And she said people should get more angry. Things are more -- to expensive and a lot of people can afford it. >> She touched upon an issue that we are not having these conversations about finances because there's embarrassment, people don't want to admit that they can't quite bring it all together. But we need to have these conversations. Both women said there's a strength in numbers. If we talk about it and maybe we'll get together and say no we won't pay that rent increase. >> So rent control and other things that could happen here. Of course it's election year, and maybe immigration will slide aside in this topic could come up. >> It comes and housing. That's been a problem. Whether there renters or homeowners. Will never be able to build enough housing. >> We are running out of time but we will get to that more. That wraps up another week at the KPBS mid -- roundtable. I would like to thank everyone that took place -- who participated today. And a reminder, all the stories that we discussed today are available on our website, KPBS.org. Thank you for joining us on the roundtable.

Family Separation Debate

President Trump reversed course this week on separating children from their parents at the border. He signed an executive order ending the practice Wednesday. But so many questions remain about how this will be implemented, and what will happen to families who come here fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. We'll take a look at the logistics and the politics behind the president's pivot this week.

Fading Dream Of Retirement in California

They went to college, worked for decades, and put some money away, but for many Californians, retirement is not what they expected. Many can't make ends meet once they stop working, and some are finding they can't retire at all.

One in five seniors in California lives in poverty, one of the highest rates in the country. And it's even worse for women, who are twice as likely to live in poverty as men. As more baby boomers age out of the workforce, pressure is building to find solutions.

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