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White House: Migrant Surge at Border A Big Problem; Border Patrol has 4,000+ Children in Custody; Texas Republicans Pushing Bills to Make It Harder to Vote; U.S. Secretary of State Visits Japan and South Korea to Bolster Ties; Regional and International Powers Play a Part in Syria; Woman Received Record-Breaking 76 Oscar Nominations. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 16, 2021 - 04:30   ET



NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: To bring Wayne Cousins into the back of this courtroom and he will appear in court roughly in about an hour and a half's time -- Rosemary.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: CHURCH: And we'll continue to follow this shocking story. Nina dos Santos joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Well, they are fleeing violence, poverty and disaster and once they reach the U.S. border migrants are finding even more problems. Next, CNN visits the border to see the tough conditions they're facing and what the White House is doing about it.


CHURCH: Well, the White House is trying to promote the COVID relief plan, but a growing number of voices are saying they're not paying enough attention to the immigration crisis at the southern border. Authorities in Texas are now turning a Dallas convention center into a shelter for migrant teenagers as a growing number of unaccompanied children arrived at the border.

CNN visited the border where thousands of children are being detained at overcrowded facilities. Rosa Flores has this report.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As tens of thousands of migrants make the dangerous journey to the U.S. southern border --


FLORES: Someone stole all her money along the way.

FLORES (voice-over): -- many discover that getting here is just the beginning. Some migrants describe --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) FLORES (voice-over): -- crowded immigration processing centers.

FLORES: Ne says it was packed with people.

FLORES (voice-over): Without showering facilities.

FLORES (on camera): Did they let you shower?


FLORES (voice-over): And some say they slept under a bridge overnight --


FLORES (voice-over): -- on pebbles and sand while waiting to get transported to immigration processing facilities. Once there, migrants say that they get three meals a day.

This as CNN learns about 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children are in Border Patrol custody. Attorneys blowing the whistle this weekend about children in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at this massive temporary immigration processing center in Donna, Texas, where unaccompanied children, including many under 10 years old, are being held, some for 5 to 7 days, which is against U.S. law.

Peter Schey is a lawyer representing thousands of unaccompanied minors in federal custody and says capacity at the Donna facility is 1,000 detainees, and right now, it's holding about 2,000.

PETER SCHEY, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS & CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: It is an untenable situation that the administration needs to address immediately.

FLORES (voice-over): The head of homeland security directed FEMA to help create more shelters for unaccompanied children and move them out of Border Patrol custody quickly.

DHA says, Border Patrol officials do everything they can to take care of unaccompanied children in their care.

As for mothers entering with children, many are released by Border Patrol at this bus station in Brownsville.

FLORES (on camera): Why did you come here?


FLORES: She says the economic crisis in her country is very severe.

FLORES (voice-over): The reasons migrants say they're trekking to the United States varies. Some, like Segua Meldar (ph) --


FLORES: -- says he lost everything during a recent hurricane in Honduras.

And Marisol Ramirez (ph), who says the toughest part of her journey was when her daughter was hungry, and she had no food. Says she's here because of the lack of jobs and the abundance of violence in her home country.

FLORES: CNN has made repeated requests to Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection to get access to the Donna facility that you see behind me and other processing centers like it, and that access has been denied.

Today, we also asked about those migrants who say that they slept under a bridge, on the dirt overnight, and we have not heard back.

Rosa Flores, CNN, Donna, Texas.


CHURCH: Texas Governor Greg Abbott is supporting a series of measures limiting access to early voting, saying he has no doubt election fraud took place in 2020. It's part of a nationwide push by Republican- controlled state houses to change voting laws despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud. CNN's Dianne Gallagher reports.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Already home to some of the most restrictive election laws in the country, Texas is now the latest state with the Republican legislature introducing bills that could make it even harder to vote.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Election fraud is unacceptable. And that's exactly why I made it an emergency out of this session.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Despite no evidence of widespread fraud in 2020 election, Texas Republicans are calling for measures that would impose new limits on early voting hours and added requirements on mail voting. But some of the legislation appears to be aimed at Harris County. A recent Democratic stronghold and home to Houston, which saw surge in turnout last year after the county implemented methods during the pandemic, such as 24-hour drive-through voting sites.

PAUL BETTENCOURT (R), TEXAS STATE SENATE: Uniformity, transparency, consistency. Wherever voters are, they should be having the same access to that type of voting activity for early voting.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The attorney general's team looking for voter fraud in the 2020 election found just 16 examples of false addresses on registration forms in Harris County after more than 22,000 hours of staff time investigating, "The Houston Chronicle" reporting. Democratic officials say it's clear what Texas Republicans are trying to do.

JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Obviously, these Republicans are hoping that their work is going to disenfranchise mostly Democrats. But the truth of the matter is, it's going to disenfranchise both parties.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice says it's tracking more than 250 bills in 43 states that would restrict voting access in some ways so far this year. Election experts say that many of the proposals would place a greater burden of voters of color with dramatic effect.

DAVID SCHULTZ, PROFESSOR, HAMLINE UNIVERSITY: In many ways, it dwarfs what we saw during the Jim Crow era, in terms of numbers of people, number of states and numbers of laws.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): That's a point echoed by Stacey Abrams about the sweeping election bills moving forward in her home state of Georgia.

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR RIGHT: I do absolutely agree that it's racist. It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie. And so, the only connection that we can find is that more people of color voted, and it changed the outcome of elections in a direction that Republicans do not like.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): And Georgia became Ground Zero for former President Trump's big lie after President Biden flipped the state in November and then Democrats won a pair of Senate seats there.

But not all Republicans in Georgia support the bills being advanced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans don't need election reform to win. We need leadership.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But in Iowa, Republicans have already acted. The state's GOP governor last week signed a new law that cuts Election Day voting hours and reduces early voting by nine days.

GOV. KIM REYNOLDS (R), IOWA: There are Americans across the state that had some concerns about what happened during this last election, and again, I think it's imperative that it's just not understood but they feel that there's integrity in the election process.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The state was sued just 24 hours later.


CHURCH: Now thanks to CNN's Dianne Gallagher for that report.

Well the brother of a star witness at former President Trump's first impeachment trial is set to be promoted by the Army. A source told CNN Yevgeny Vindman will be promoted to colonel. His brother Alex Vindman retired from the Army last summer following what his attorney described as a campaign of bullying, intimidation and retaliation after he testified at the impeachment trial.

Renewing relationships with friends and allies. That's how the U.S. secretaries of state and defense are describing their trip to Japan. We will have a live report from Tokyo coming up next.


CHURCH: There are renewed urgent calls for an end to the escalating violence in Myanmar. One advocacy group says in the past two days security forces have killed nearly 100 people and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says in total at least 183 people have been killed in protests that began after last month's military coup.


The spokesman for the U.N. secretary general says he is appalled by reports of recent killings. More funerals for the victims are planned for today. Protesters have defied authorities and taken to the streets for more than a month of demonstration to speak out against the military coup.

Well top U.S. and Japanese officials are sitting down today for what's being called the two plus two talks. U.S. Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are visiting Japan and South Korea on a fence mending trip. But North Korea is not staying quiet with an ominous warning to the United States.

And CNN correspondent Blake Essig joins me now from Tokyo. Good to see you Blake. So what is expected to come out of these meetings and how will North Korea's warning play into all of this?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary, you know, that warning definitely -- there was no likely coincidence there that it was delivered at this moment when Japan and the U.S. are holding their first meeting with the new Biden administration. And the goal of that first a cabinet level overseas meeting of the Secretary of State and Defense was to promote peace, security and reinforce to the world that the United States is back. And the fact that they did it here in Tokyo really speaks to the relationship and the importance of the alliance between Japan and the United States. Earlier today Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe in democracy, human rights, the rule of law, because we've seen in our own country that those values actually make us stronger and because they are under threat in many places, including in the region. Whether it's in Burma or whether in different ways, China.


ESSIG: Just a little bit ago U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin and their counterparts here in Japan, Minister of Foreign Affairs Motegi, and the Minister of Defense Kishi all held a joint press conference. Now, during the course of today they focused on a number of things like a free and open Indo-Pacific, an increasingly aggressive China in the East and South China Sea and of course the denuclearization of a nuclear North Korea. Now at this point we heard today that warning we had mentioned a

little bit ago. Kim Jong-un's sister Ki Yo-jong issued a warning to the Biden administration. Saying, quote --

We take the opportunity to warn this new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land, she said. If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink in its first step.

Now, again, Rosemary, that statement not likely a coincidence that it came out today. And Secretary Blinken was actually asked about it during the press conference. He said this, and I quote.

Let me say that I'm familiar with the comments you referenced, but the comments I'm actually most interested in today are those of our allies and partners, that's why we came to this region.

You know, all of these comments at this point, you know, building up with the fact that the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense will be heading to Seoul tomorrow to hold meetings with their counterparts there and you can bet that because of this warning issued today that North Korea will be top of the agenda -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Yes, no doubt. Blake Essig joining us live from Tokyo, many thanks.

Well a decade of destruction and despair with no clear path forward, ten years on from the start of Syria's civil war. The U.N. secretary general says the country remains a living nightmare with devastation impossible to fathom. Our Ben Wedeman looks back at the last ten years in Syria, a warning, though, his report contains disturbing video.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "El Assad or we burn the country," regime loyalists like to chant.

And over the last 10 years, as Syria has plummeted deeper into the abyss, the country, has burned and President Bashar al-Assad has clung to power.

An uprising that started peacefully has left as many as a half million dead by some estimates. The United Nations gave up counting five years ago.

More than half the population has been driven from their homes or has fled the country. Unwilling to concede that his dynastic regime and decades of oppression were to blame, Assad called it a foreign conspiracy.

And indeed, the uprising has become a multinational bloodbath.


The U.S. and its Gulf allies initially provided the divided opposition with just enough money and weapons to keep fighting, but never enough to win.

And the failure of that opposition opened the door to ISIS and its brutal brand of madness, which brought American and European boots to Syrian soil.

Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah came to Assad's aid, followed by the full might of Russia. Turkey also joined the fray, along with Israel.

Syria today is a kaleidoscope of conflicts, pitting superpowers, regional powers, local powers against one another, now in a stalemate. A quagmire where it has become costly to stay, perhaps even more costly to leave. Dreams of freedom faded long ago.

Syrian-American author and journalist, Alia Malek, witnessed the early years of the conflict.

ALIA MALEK, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Order and stability, I think, have emerged as things that are more important to the international community than the messiness of the true, sort of open or democratic society. The fear of like ISIS-type Islamists, militants, psychologically terrorizes people more than the idea of like a butcher in an Armani suit.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The official Syrian media portrays Assad's survival as a victory. It has left him ruling over just part of this devastated country, a traumatized population, and an economy in free fall due to corruption and sanctions. If this is victory, what is defeat?

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.




CHURCH: Well women are making history at this year's Academy Awards with a record breaking 76 nominations in total and two women nominated for best director for the first time ever. Among the nominations announced on Monday, Netflix's Hollywood drama "Mank" leads the crowd with ten nominations, notably best picture, director, actor and actress. The Korean drama "Manari" was nominated for best picture along with five other nominations including best supporting actress for Youn Yuh-Jung. Who said she never dreamt she would be nominated for the coveted award.


YOUN YUH-JUNG, BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINEE, "MANARI": The Oscars is a program for us once a year. A very big event from some other part of the world. But we know all of their faces through the movie. But me being nominated in that supporting actress role, I don't know how to describe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: The 93rd academy awards is Sunday April 25th.

And thank you so much for your company, I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a wonderful day.