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News Brief: Republicans Talk Immigration Overhaul, China Tariffs Latest


President Trump keeps insisting falsely that the only way to stop family separations at the border is for Congress to act, but Congress can't seem to figure out how to make that happen, David.


Yeah. The House is considering two different bills designed to try to put an end to the separations. And last night, President Trump was invited to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans and, in an ideal world, to give them a sense of which one he would support. But lawmakers appeared to leave the meeting only more confused about what the president might actually sign. All the while, even members of the president's own party keep telling him that if he really wanted to stop children from being torn away from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, he should just make that change on his own.

MARTIN: Which he has the right and ability to do. All right - NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell in the studio with us this morning.

Hey, Kelsey.


MARTIN: Before we get into what the president said he would support or didn't say he'd support, remind us of what exactly House Republicans are considering.

SNELL: Yeah. I think it's important to remember that House Republicans were talking about immigration before this whole issue of family separation on the border even got started.

MARTIN: Right.

SNELL: This is something that they got started because there are a number of moderates who wanted to vote on legal protections for the DREAMers, those people who are in the country illegally after being here - brought here as children. So they're looking at two bills. One - well, first of all, they would both meet the president's four pillars of border security and all the additional things that he...

MARTIN: The wall...

SNELL: Yes. He wants funding for the wall.

MARTIN: So this is - we should just say, this is way bigger than just about family separations.

SNELL: This is much, much bigger. So one is the one that we've heard the president call the moderate bill. Some people call it the compromise. It is intended to meet those four pillars, protect the families and create some visas that would allow people who - those DREAMers - to stay in the country while they wait in line - the normal line - for citizenship. The other is a conservative bill that even its author, Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, doesn't think can pass. And that's the thing to remember here - is that they're not certain that either of these can pass at this point because it's really hard to get support behind immigration bills. They've taken decades of working on this and never reached a consensus.

MARTIN: And I take it lawmakers, as we noted, were hoping for clarity from this meeting with President Trump about what he would like to see move forward, and they didn't get it.

SNELL: They - well, I talked to more than a dozen lawmakers after this meeting, and I got about half a dozen different versions of what they thought the president supported. The White House came out of it saying that he supports both bills, but that's not particularly helpful to leaders who are trying to kind of corral people in one direction towards this compromise bill because if they believe that the president - if conservatives in particular believe that the president will still support the conservative bill, they don't have a huge incentive to not vote for it and to pick up this thing that is a compromise on a major issue for them.

MARTIN: They also didn't get a chance to ask questions, right?

SNELL: Right. And that is really important, I think, to remember - is that for all of the upset and outrage we've been hearing about the family separation policy in particular, members didn't interrupt the president to talk about it. They didn't get to raise it at all. He spoke for about an hour, and then they left to go vote.

MARTIN: The Senate is also looking at this. What's going on there?

SNELL: Yeah. The situation the Senate is kind of different. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants kind of a surgical fix, something really narrow just to address the family separation issue.

MARTIN: Which would make Democrats happy.

SNELL: It would, depending upon what that bill actually says. McConnell reminded people of that problem, that they've been working on immigration for decades. But it's just not that simple. I spoke to Senator John Kennedy, and here's what he said.

JOHN KENNEDY: The problem is obvious. The solution, to me, is also obvious. You can believe in the rule of law and prosecute people for breaking it without taking their children away. You can do both.

SNELL: Yeah. He says you can do both, but they don't have a bill. It's kind of a scattershot approach at this point and not sure how it's going to work out.

MARTIN: And Ted Cruz - he's got his own proposal out there to put more judges down at the border.

SNELL: He does, and the White House has shot that down, essentially, saying, what's the point of more judges?

MARTIN: All right - NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.

MARTIN: All right. So right now, there are nearly 12,000 migrant children who are detained by the U.S. federal government.

GREENE: Yeah. And we should say, many of them arrived at the border alone, by themselves. But there are more than 2,000 who were separated from their families, and this happened in the first weeks of the Trump administration's new policy. And there's a growing worry that the government is not prepared to reunite them with their parents.

MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett has been covering this closely. He covers the Southwest and has been inside one of these facilities where these children are being held.

Hey, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So first off, just tell us about these detention centers. Who's actually running them?

BURNETT: Well, we found out yesterday from Customs and Border Protection that more than 2,300 children have now been removed from their parents in the first five weeks of this new practice. They're first in these chain-link holding cells inside Border Patrol facilities. Then if the family is separated, they become the responsibility of another government agency, Health and Human Services, that sends them out to one of a hundred youth shelters around the country run by private contractors. They stay there, on average, month and a half, and the agency tries to find family members in the U.S. for them to live with.

MARTIN: Have you been able to confirm whether there have been any parents, John, who have been deported without their kids?

BURNETT: Yeah, immigration advocates say they've seen a few cases of parents being deported back to Central America without their children. But this practice of child separation has only really been going on for a few weeks, and it can take a while for the courts to issue deportation orders, so it's still early.

MARTIN: Still early. What happens if it is determined that someone's claim is actually legit, but they have been separated from their child or children, who might be even too young to talk - right? - like, too young to say, these are my parents' names? What's the process for reuniting them?

BURNETT: Well, the problem is that once they're separated, they're split up between two different and distinct federal agencies, and the system treats them as two autonomous detainees of the state. When the Border Patrol writes its arrest narrative - in the ones that I've read, there's no mention of the existence of a child who came in with a parent. An unaccompanied child becomes, legally, an unaccompanied child. And so how do mother and daughter reunite again? Well, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Health and Human Services both have these 1-800 hotlines for detained parents to reach their children in shelters. But the public defenders and immigrant advocates say that they can spend 30 minutes to an hour waiting for a real person to answer, and they still don't learn where the child is.

I covered the trials of three Guatemalan women a couple of weeks ago who were detained in West Texas and had their children, all of whom were under 10, taken away. The day of their trial, more than a month after they'd been separated, the moms finally learned where their kids were - in a shelter in the Bronx, 2,000 miles away. ICE says it makes every effort to reunite the child with the parent, but I think the government's finding it easier to separate families than put them back together.

MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett for us this morning. John, thanks so much.

BURNETT: You bet, Rachel.


MARTIN: All right, now to the Trump administration's other huge concern at the border. We're talking about trade.

GREENE: Yeah. And trade with China has been one of the issues that we have been reporting on a lot. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is heading to Capitol Hill today to defend the administration's trade policies. The president is keeping up the pressure. He is threatening even more tariffs on Chinese goods. And his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, keeps ratcheting up the rhetoric. This is him on a conference call yesterday with reporters.


PETER NAVARRO: If they thought that they could buy us off cheap with a few extra products sold and allow them to continue to steal our intellectual property and crown jewels, that was a miscalculation

GREENE: The president's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, there. I think we can safely say with immigration and also with trade, both these issues are making the president's own party in Congress a little nervous right now.

MARTIN: Right. OK NPR's John Ydstie joins us now to talk about all this.

Hey, John.


MARTIN: All right. So Secretary Wilbur Ross headed to Capitol Hill - what kind of reception is he going to get? I mean, these tariffs have been controversial, I think, is an understatement among some in the Republican Party right now.

YDSTIE: That's exactly right. He's going to get a skeptical reception and from members of the Republican Party on the Senate Finance Committee. They're concerned about the Trump administration's blunt use of these tariffs to get what it wants on trade. This hearing was called specifically because Senate Republicans are upset about President Trump's decision to levy steel and aluminum tariffs on some of America's closest allies and trading partners - Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

And remember, those tariffs were initially a response to China's overproduction of both those metals, which was driving down prices and costing jobs and profits of U.S. steelmakers. But the administration decided our allies should face those tariffs, too. Some Republicans called that just dumb, partly because they believe we need our allies to join us in getting China to stop overproducing. Senators are even working to pass legislation that would block the tariffs against our allies. So Secretary Ross is going to get an earful today.

MARTIN: President Trump himself is out to defend these tariffs. He's heading to Duluth, Minn., later today. He's going to meet with representatives of the mining and steel industries, sectors that should be benefiting from these tariffs, right? I mean, this is what this is all about - is to try to protect American jobs. Are we seeing any evidence of that?

YDSTIE: Yeah. We're seeing U.S. steelmakers announce that they're expanding production and hiring more workers because steel prices have risen and they're more profitable. But there are many more U.S. firms who are steel users. They use metals to make everything from automobiles to soup cans. And they employ far more workers than the steelmakers. They're complaining about the increased cost and the lost profits as a result of these tariffs.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, global markets took a big hit yesterday with news - the latest threats of the latest tariffs. Then everyone loses - right? - when the market goes down.

YDSTIE: Well, it does. It does. They're concerned about these added tariffs that the president was putting on. But economists say those tariffs could really affect the U.S. economy and cut half a percent from U.S. growth and cost half a million jobs, so that would hurt.

MARTIN: NPR's John Ydstie for us this morning. John, thanks so much.

YDSTIE: You're welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEBS' "DOUBLE FIFTHS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.