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Southern Border Migrant Surge Worsens; Families in Syria Remain Devastated by War; Jury Selection Continues in Derek Chauvin Trial. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 10:30   ET



DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: This is what Katz said, one piece of new information that came to light is that the governor's preoccupation with his hand size and what the large size of his hands indicated to Charlotte and other members of his staff.

Now, it wasn't all bad news for Cuomo on Monday and this morning. He also got a poll from Siena College, which found a full 50 percent of New York voters do not think he should immediately resign.

Now, that's a huge fall from the popularity he had about a year ago, in the middle of the COVID crisis, but here's why it matters. Governor Cuomo is asking for time, he's asking New York voters to take time, wait for the investigations to fully play out, and then to decide whether to oust him from office or not.

And it appears that New York voters are with him, even if the majority of the New York delegation has called for him to step down. And it also -- and we know that the White House, the Biden White House, is willing to give Cuomo that time until the investigations play out. And that's why all eyes are behind me right now, on the New York Assembly, as they determine whether they can impeach the Democratic governor.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Dan Merica, thank you very much --


HARLOW: -- for that reporting in Albany.

OK, ahead, overcrowded facilities, overworked Border Patrol agents, and now a warning from the Department of Homeland Security that the United States is on pace to see more migrants at the southern border than in the last 20 years. How is the Biden administration going to handle this? That's next.



HARLOW: Well, this morning as the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border grows, more than 4,200 migrant children who have arrived in this country -- largely alone -- are currently in the custody of the United States. The number, Jim, is only going up from here.

SCIUTTO: Yes, setting new records. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, he lays the blame for this surge at the feet of the previous administration. Listen.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Do not come now, give us the time to rebuild the system that was entirely dismantled in the prior administration. And we have in fact begun to rebuild that system. We reinstituted the Central American Minors Program that provides and legal and safe way for children to make their claims here in the United States.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now is Todd Schulte, he's an immigration and criminal justice advocate, long history on this issue. Todd, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So the secretary, he's right there that many of these programs were dismantled, as you know, under the Trump administration, like the Central American Minors Program.

That said, it's also true that the Biden administration, in reversing this policy of sending unaccompanied minors home, has helped spark a surge here -- right? -- in numbers, and the facilities are getting overwhelmed. I wonder if, from your perch here, the Biden administration did not sufficiently prepare for that surge, right? These greater numbers coming over.

SCHULTE: Well, I think we should first and foremost start about, like, what's actually happening. And I think to go back, we all remember family separation, many of us remember that the entire asylum system has been shut off for nearly 18 months through the Remain in Mexico policy. You know, that was the sort of chaos and confusion. It was not as (ph) inhumane.

But actually this increase in people trying to cross between ports of entry, it actually started eight or nine months ago. You know, in the last seven months of the Trump administration, for example, there has been almost a 500 percent increase in the number of children coming.

So what's happening today? There's an increase in people who are crossing, who are children. I know people like to use terms like "family units," "unaccompanied minors"? These are children crossing. And when children cross, they are being held in these CBP facilities. They are being held in those facilities for too long, and I want to be clear, there are children in awful conditions right now.

What the administration should be doing -- and it is doing in part -- is trying to get people out of those into shelters, and they should be getting those kids out of shelters really quickly. This is a huge mess that they were inherited. There are things the

Biden administration is doing that we support, there are things we want them to do differently. But I think first and foremost, we should be having a conversation grounded in, you know, these are children.

HARLOW: So Todd, you make an important point that it started, the surge of children over the border, in April of last year, that's correct, but it's double where it was a year ago. And you even have the president of Mexico saying, on March 1st, quote, speaking about migrants, that to this country, "they see him" -- being Biden -- "as the migrant president, and many feel they are going to reach the United States."

Do you believe, given those two things, the Biden administration owes all of those families trying to get their children across the border and the American people, a very clear answer on this?

SCHULTE: Well, I think we should be a country -- and I believe we can be a country, and will ultimately be a country -- that welcomes people who have survived incredible hardship to apply for asylum. I want to be clear about that. That is something that, like, we should be able to do, it's the moral thing to do, it's the right thing to do.

I think that, first and foremost, the idea that people in Central America or people who have been trapped in camps in northern Mexico, look to, like, what the White House is saying on a daily basis or change (ph) to decide whether or not they want to come here, that's not really how this works.

I do think the administration needs to clearly set up a process for dealing with families. I don't think we should have policies -- and we have them now -- that encourage folks through what's called Title 42, to cross as children.

We should be welcoming families together because we can deal with families. You know, can process people and then they can go and not be jailed, and they can seek asylum and have a fair hearing. That's what the goal should be. We need better legal immigration avenues.


SCIUTTO: OK, those are policy fixes, right? What is the legislative fix, simplest one, achievable one -- right? -- given the division over this issue. Or is there really just no legislative path given where the parties are right now?

SCHULTE: No, I mean I think the legislation you should want to have here is, we should be establishing better legal immigration avenues. You know, coming across Mexico and applying for asylum should be a last resort. You should be able to come to the United States legally to work, you should be able to come legally to see family, you should be able to come as a guest worker.

There should be a regional refugee system. That's ultimately what this is, we have these waves of refugee numbers coming to the border, but we actually don't have a regional approach. So that's what Congress should be focused on, if they're going to do it.

Now, I will say what we want to see Congress focused on this week is not take these bad-faith efforts to distract. And they should pass the DREAM Act, is what we really want them to do right now, while the administration puts these legal immigration avenues in place.

SCIUTTO: And we did speak to a Republican congresswoman last hour, who said she at least would be willing to trade border security for some legal path for Dreamers. We'll see if there's broader support for that. Todd Schulte, thanks so much for coming on this morning.

SCHULTE: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Well, 10 years -- 10 years -- of the Syrian civil war, and yet it is still raging on. Up next, CNN takes you inside Syria to speak to some of the youngest victims of the conflict. it's a moving story, you'll want to hear it.



SCIUTTO: Ten years ago -- amazing to think of it -- a series of what were peaceful, pro-democracy protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned into a civil war that, remarkably, sadly continues today.

HARLOW: The war has devastated millions of Syrian families, especially the children of Syria, many of whom have literally never lived a day not in war. This has lasted their entire lives. Here is our senior international correspondent Arwa Damon with one family's story.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What do I do, use a bucket of water? A blanket? I tried using my hands like this to put out the flames; I couldn't. My (ph) son's (ph) body was a ball of fire.

Sultan was playing on his bike when a rocket blew up fuel canisters nearby.

SULTAN, WOUNDED CHILD (through translator): My belly was on fire. My belly looked like all the flesh came out of it. My belly and my back.

DAMON (voice-over): An ambulance brought Sultan to Turkey. He and his mother have been there ever since.

This is the last photo of Sultan before the airstrike.

No, you are not ugly, you are beautiful, Amar constantly tells him.

Sultan has an utterly disarming smile, with eyes that fluctuate between sparkling like a 10-year-old's should, but at times darken as his past sets in. DAMON: He has these nightmares where he's on fire, his whole body's

on fire, even his eyes are on fire. And he wakes up screaming, screaming for his mother to put out the flames.

DAMON (voice-over): Sultan is as old as Syria's war itself, a life that carries the emotional and physical scars of a nation. When he was five, his baby brother was killed in a bombing.

AMAR, MOTHER OF WOUNDED CHILD (through translator): The neighbors removed the glass. They pulled him out, his neck was slit.

DAMON (voice-over): When Sultan was six, his father died in a strike on the market.

AMAR (through translator): I saw so many children die in front of me. I couldn't save even one.

DAMON (voice-over): This is where Sultan was born into unimaginable violence, where he lost so much, a gray dusty town of smothered childhood laughter, stolen by war.

Renad's family did not know that mines were daisy-chained along the wall of their home. Her grandfather shows us where the first one went off.

DAMON: She was swinging off the door with her siblings, and then all of a sudden there was just an explosion from a mine right there.

DAMON (voice-over): She lost her left leg, under the knee.

DAMON: She has a prosthetic now.

DAMON (voice-over): She says her father disappeared a decade ago, at the start of Syria's war.

She tell us he was blindfolded, and she was thrown to the ground in a forest.

RENAD, SURVIVED MINE EXPLOSION (through translator): There were people passing by who heard me crying.

DAMON (voice-over): It's the longest sentence she speaks. Mostly she gives one-word answers or falls silent. Her grandfather says he feels like she's just gone blank.

She doesn't dream of a life without war because she can't even imagine it.

It's been over a year since we were last here, covering Russia and the Syrian regime's most intense assault on what remained of rebel-held territory. There's been a ceasefire in place since then that has been, relatively speaking, holding.

COVID-19 peaked here late last year; now ICU beds are mostly empty.

DAMON: It's all sand bagged underneath here just in case there's more bombing that resumes.

DAMON (voice-over): This is a pediatric hospital, one of the few that remains intact. Sayed (ph) is 2.5 months old, and severely underweight.


DAMON: They've seen a threefold increase in malnutrition cases in this clinic alone, for a number of reasons.

DAMON (voice-over): Years of bombings and displacement, leading to greater poverty and then further fueled by COVID-19 border closures and humanitarian aid slowing down.

We pass ramshackle camps with each bombardment, more of them, blotted the countryside, a decade for so many, a lifetime of compounded trauma. The past permeates everything. For most, there's not a month, a week that goes by that isn't the anniversary of the death of someone they loved.

Perhaps all that is left to save are the shreds of innocence of a scarred generation. Arwa Damon, CNN, Idlib, Syria.




HARLOW: Just moments ago, jury selection resumed in the trial of ex- Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. Nine jurors have now been picked.

SCIUTTO: But Chauvin's attorney is now asking the judge to pause the trial, move it out of Minneapolis. The defense, arguing that the city's $27 million settlement with the Floyd family could impact the trial, make it prejudicial.

Joining us now to discuss is CNN anchor Don Lemon. His new book, "This is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism," is out today. We got a lot of delve into that, Don. And you -- by the way, you were inspired to write this book by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery.

Just looking at how the trial is going now, is this civil suit, does it have the potential to disrupt the progress of this, going forward?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I spoke with the lawyer, Benjamin Crump, and I spoke with Philonese Floyd last night, George Floyd's brother, and they hope not. They certainly don't believe that it should, what they think is it's a delay tactic on the part of the defense, so we shall see.

But it's interesting, Benjamin Crump told me these sorts of settlements often happen. The timing isn't unusual, according to him, that they often happen at -- either before or during a trial, even as early as jury selection and sometimes even before.

So I think we're just going to have to see how this plays out, a change of venue or -- look, this is a powder keg, as you guys know. And any sort of disruption could, you know, really set things off. Let's hope that it doesn't, so I think we have to see how it plays out. But it certainly bears watching, and of course we will.

HARLOW: Yes, it certainly does.

Look, Don, you write this book by opening with a letter to your nephew, just like James Baldwin did with a letter to his nephew in his book, "The Fire Next Time." And here's the first line, "Today, I heard a man -- a dying man -- call out to his mama, and I wept for the world that will soon belong to you." It's about George Floyd, calling out for his mother with his last breaths.

You say you wrote it to heal America, and that indicates to me that you are hopeful we can be healed.

LEMON: I am hopeful that we can be healed. And I point to the election of November, that there were more people who were on the side of continuing to lean and fight for a more perfect union rather than taking us back to an era where people of color and marginalized people and women did not have equal rights and equal access under the law. And also -- and especially in this time, when voting rights are on the verge of being restricted in a number of states around the country, so.

But I'm still hopeful that the right thinking -- not "right" as in politically right, but people who have the right thoughts and the right emotions, and who want good things, that we will continue on that side.

SCIUTTO: You know, it's right in the subtitle, right? You know, how you talk about race. And I wonder, you know, the sad phenomenon -- and we've talked about this, you talk about it on the air all the time -- of folks talking less, right? People from different camps and different bubbles, and sadly different races, talking less.

But I wonder -- I mean, that's the conventional wisdom. I wonder, in writing this, did you find that those bridges, particularly in the wake of George Floyd, are growing, right? Rather than falling down?

LEMON: Well, I found that in the beginning they were, because people were open. Listen, we were all vulnerable, we were in the middle of quarantine, the middle of a deadly pandemic, we didn't know which way the world was going to go, we didn't know if we were going to have a job, we didn't know if we were going to see our friends, our loved ones, if we were even going to survive. SO people were much more open, their hearts were much more open.

But as time has gone on, I've heard people say, yes, this is all really heavy, this -- all this race stuff, but can I just go back to being snarky on Instagram and you know, so on and so forth.

But -- and also, people who say, well, what can I do? And then when you tell them what to do, they don't want to do the work, right? They just --


LEMON: -- they want something that's more practical or easier, but it's not easy --


LEMON: -- this requires doing the work, and relationships.

That's why I say when I talk to my friends about racism, because we need to have friends who don't look like us. And that will start the healing.

HARLOW: Just a few seconds left, Don. What do you think your grandma would say about this today, as your books comes out, and all you taught her and all she taught the world?

LEMON: Well, my -- you know, I helped teach my grandmother to read because she had a fifth grade education, and when she would go to vote, they would try to restrict her, right? And so she told me about those stories, at the kitchen table, as I was trying to help her read.