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Growing Number of Migrants Trying to Cross into U.S.; Netanyahu Courts Arab Voters Ahead of Fourth Election; White House Weighs Extension for U.S. Troops in Afghanistan; Biden Dispatches U.S. Senator to Meet Ethiopian Prime Minister. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 04:30   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to all of you watching us in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Well the Biden administration isn't calling it a crisis, but thousands of desperate migrants are trying to get into the United States through the border with Mexico. The U.S. Border Patrol says its encountered 32 large groups of migrants there since October and CNN has learned more than 4,500 migrant children are now in U.S. custody. CNN's Rosa Flores joined one group for the end of their dangerous journey.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the South Texas trails used by thousands of migrants, like these unaccompanied teenagers from Guatemala, to make their way into the U.S. And sometimes they encounter Deputy Constable Dan Broyles as he patrols the border with Mexico.

Sixteen-year-old Kevin gets emotional as he shares that he's been traveling for a month, sometimes without food or water. His father waits for him in Pennsylvania.

Seventeen-year-old Denis voice breaks as he explains his grandma --


FLORES (voice-over): -- who takes care of him stayed behind in his gang-ridden neighborhood. Border authorities in the Rio Grande Valley are encountering about 1,000 migrants a day, according to a federal source, many of them unaccompanied minors.

Evidence mothers and children are on the trail litter the landscape -- diapers, children's clothing and masks.

FLORES: Documents left behind by some of the migrants tell part of their story. In this case, it looks like a 34-year-old mom from Honduras and her 2-year-old son, they both tested for COVID before leaving their country and tested negative.

So what do you look for when you patrol?

DEPUTY CONSTABLE DAN BROYLES: Well, what I'm looking for is splashes of color that don't belong in the brush.

FLORES (voice-over): He also looks down the paths that lead to the river for signs of life.

BROYLES: This is an indication sign.

FLORES (voice-over): And he shows us the arrows posted by border authorities.

BROYLES: As you can see, that's a homeland security bag.

FLORES (voice-over): And this one that reads, "asilo," or asylum.


FLORES: Walk to the bridge is two kilometers.

BROYLES: Is two kilometers, yes.

FLORES (voice-over): What bridge? The bridge near the Rio Grande where immigration processing begins.

This is as close as our cameras can get. Border Patrol is not granting media access, but with permission from deputy constables who patrol alongside federal authorities.

BROYLES: Precinct 3 constable's office is in charge of approximately 22 miles of international border.

FLORES (voice-over): We've got our eyes and ears on the ground.

FLORES: Did you come alone?

FLORES (voice-over): This teen says he paid a smuggler after a recent hurricane flooded his single mom's home.

FLORES: How much did you pay?


FLORES (voice-over): Or $2,500.

FLORES: How did you get the money?


FLORES: Was it a loan?


FLORES (voice-over): Broyles job ends here when he sends the teens off to Border Patrol. For the teens, it's just another step in an already uncertain journey.


FLORES: I'm on the banks of the Rio Grande, the land mass that you see behind me is Mexico. The man in charge of this portion of the border is Precinct 3 Constable Larry Gallardo. And he tells me that there's a constant dual challenge here. Downriver, the smuggling of people. Upriver, the smuggling of drugs. And the Border Patrol chief tweeting there is no end in sight.

Rosa Flores, CNN, along the U.S. Mexico border.


BRUNHUBER: Joining me now is Marcos Tamariz from Doctors Without Borders. He's the groups deputy head of regional mission for Mexico and Central America. Thank you so much for coming on. The Biden administration says more than 14,000 migrant children are in custody right now. There's been such a surge of unaccompanied minors. Do you have any insight into what's behind the surge of kids coming across?

MARCOS TAMARIZ, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERS: Well, today what we see is actually a massive surge. We don't necessarily see it from exclusively children going to the border, we're seeing it from -- we've been seeing it already for several months of people going -- leaving from Honduras where we are present there. We see it directly in (INAUDIBLE). We see it directly at the border.

Shelters are -- right now they're completely full, especially like in Matamoras. We've seen a lot of people that have been waiting for a long. Long that have lost hope. And now with their families and everything they've tried to get across any means possible.

BRUNHUBER: The reason behind so many people are coming, many migrants openly say they're hoping, you know, a friendly Biden administration will let them in. We've seen even some people wearing Biden t-shirts. Obviously, you know, the president telling them not to come now isn't going to do anything to stop them, right? Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, recently visited a shelter to speak with the migrants. Listen to this.


REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): I asked them specifically about the messaging and I said has anybody heard the White House say don't come? Nope, not a single hand. And I had 20, 16, 17-year-olds with me. And I said what about messaging from your friends and family? Almost everybody raised their hand they said, yeah, we've heard from our family members or friends come over. Come over.


BRUNHUBER: So come over. I mean, that's the message they're getting. How does one counter this to ease the pressure on all those facilities that you've been talking about on both sides of the board. TAMARIZ: Yes, it's actually -- it's one of the concerns that the whole

community has been living since the beginning of the -- lifting the camp and the whole dismantling of the MBP program. From our side we have constantly been sharing this information with everyone that we've been working with saying, guys, you still have to be a bit more patient. They are going step by step and just try to be patient. But patience has been -- but they've lost hope. They've lost this patience.

BRUNHUBER: I want to get the bigger picture here as to what can be done. I mean, I've been to the border many times. Most of the migrants I met wouldn't qualify for asylum under any traditional definition or at least the one we have now, they're fleeing poverty, the effects of natural disasters, endemic gang violence, they want a better safer life here in the U.S. -- which you can understand. But surely more needs to be done in these countries before they get here.

TAMARIZ: Yes, indeed. I mean, that's part of the thing that's -- we also are advocating for is to make sure that the root causes are also addressed and that's some of the things we see when we're working in Honduras. For instance, we're working with victims of sexual violence and the lack of proper protocols that allow them to be properly served, treated and so on makes it really difficult.

We have been responding to hurricanes and since then, I mean, we saw it was a time bomb to say in the sense that we knew that people that had been -- that had completely lost everything that their community had been erased by the tides and by the rain and everything, well, they had no choice. Most of them they have families or acquaintances that have been living in the U.S. and of course they hear this voice come over, come over, but definitely the conditions are not there.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, it's a terrible situation and hopefully politicians will be able to find solutions on both sides of the border there and in so many of those countries. Marcos Tamariz, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

TAMARIZ: Thank you very much, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: A fourth election and a new unlikely tactic by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's now courting votes from a group he's demeaned in the past, Israeli Arabs. We'll have a live report from Jerusalem coming up. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: Israelis head to the polls next Tuesday for their fourth general election in two years. With another tight race looming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is courting votes from a group that he has partially criticized in the past, Arab voters, but his strategic thinking may be working here. CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem for us. So Netanyahu, as I said, historically not the most Arab friendly historically, I guess. So what's led him to change his tune now? HADAS GOLD, CNN REPORTER: Well, Kim, it all comes down to really

Israeli politics are rather quirky and it's sort of like a puzzle. There's thousands of pieces but only one or two really will unlock that path to power. And because the polls are so tight right now in Israel Benjamin Netanyahu needs any votes, any seats he can get to help him get over that 61-seat majority and that's why we're seeing him turn to these Israeli-Arab voters.

But this is a group that Netanyahu and his Likud Party had previously been accused of trying to suppress.


GOLD (voice over): Just last year a campaign video like this from Benjamin Netanyahu would have been unthinkable.

Abu Yair, literally the father of Yair, an Arabic language way of embracing the Israeli Prime Minister. Contrast that with this video from 2015. Stoking fear of Israel's 20 percent Arab minority to scare his Likud Party base to get out and vote.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The rule of the right is in danger. Their voters are moving in drove to the polling stations. Left-wing organizations are busing them in.

GOLD: This election is expected to be so close that one or two seats could determine who will be the next Prime Minister. That's why you are seeing a possibly surprising sight from Benjamin Netanyahu. Campaigning amongst an electorate he was previously accused of deriving.


GOLD (voice-over): Netanyahu's Likud Party has new promises to these voters. Peace agreements with regional allies and a cabinet position for a special minister of Arab affairs.

TZACHI HANEGBI, ISRAELI CABINET MINISTER: We are surprised to see that it is working. It's effective. We really believe in cooperation with the Likud, so we went on with this strategy and so far, so good.

GOLD (voice-over): It may be working. A recent poll by Tel Aviv University found nearly 25 percent of Israeli-Arab voters thinking Netanyahu is the best candidate for Prime Minister.

In the village of Taibeh, the tension ahead of this election is evident on the streets were Jewish-Israeli protesters try to convince the locals to vote against the Prime Minister. One of them yells at passing cars that Netanyahu is a liar and that they need to kick him out. But he's interrupted by a local man, Asvarga Ismael (ph), who says there is no one like Bibi, only Bibi Netanyahu, there is no stronger than him.

Not everyone in Taibeh is a fan though. And for some the disillusion is spreads across the Arab parties as well. Mahmoud Amsha says that for the first time in his life he may leave his ballot blank. MAHMOUD AMSHA, TAIBEH RESIDENT (through translator): You do not have to be very smart to see that we are disappointed. First of all, violent scribe's, the murder, the murder of also women and children. Second thing infrastructure. Third thing all of the unemployed people. You know what? I'm at home all the time because I don't feel secure. Shouldn't they care about me?

GOLD (voice-over): Dr. Ahmad Tibi, is a veteran of Israeli politics a Member of Parliament here for more than 20 years. He says it is foolish for an Arab voter to think that voting for Netanyahu will give him power to address Arab issues.

DR. AHMAD TIBI, ISRAELI KNESSET MEMBER: Netanyahu is the problem, he is not the solution. He is a real rightist. Right ideology, with opportunism, but he is a rightist.

GOLD (voice-over): In such a small country, Netanyahu's success may hinge on whether he can convince just enough of these voters to forget the past.


GOLD (on camera): Four days to go until this unprecedented election but we still might not actually have a clear answer. Because there are 13 parties right now who could win representation. And the real question will be as it has been here over the past few years is which of these parties will be able to form an actual functioning coalition -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. We will be covering it. Thank you so much, CNN's Hadas Gold from Jerusalem.

Coming up, the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia where there are grave concerns about conditions in the warn torn region of Tigray. The U.S. is sending an envoy and millions of dollars.



BRUNHUBER: The U.S. defense official says the Biden administration is considering a six-month extension for American troops in Afghanistan. That's even though President Trump had negotiated a May 1st deadline with the Taliban to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country. Oren Liebermann is following this story for us.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Just weeks before a May 1st deadline to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Biden administration is considering a six-month extension for the presence of troops there as the administration tries to figure out how to end a 20-year war. That would mean troops would be there until May 1st, but unit sometime in November. That according to a defense official who stressed that the decision isn't final and there are other options being considered. An administration official said no decision has been made yet.

That May 1st deadline comes from a Doha agreement signed last year between the Trump administration and the Taliban that calls for a reduction in troop levels that was to end on May 1st with the withdrawal of remaining troops. President Joe Biden in a interview with ABC News, criticized that agreement saying it was poorly negotiated. Nevertheless, he has made it clear he still would like to withdraw troops from the country. He says May 1st would be tough to make that happen but also said it wouldn't take that much longer he believed.

At this point the U.S. administration is having conversations with its allies and interagency discussions to figure out what options are available. The influential Afghanistan study group led by the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Joseph Dunford has said the timeline for withdrawal should be reworked and not based on dates but based on conditions. Crucially among those, a reduction in Taliban violence. Officials have said they've seen a reduction in violence against U.S. troops but an increase in violence against Afghan forces and against Afghan society.

That would need to be reduced, that would need to come down for the U.S. to move forward with a full withdrawal according to the Afghanistan study group and according to other officials.

One of the thorny issues here is that it's more than just 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, there are also special operations force there and any number of options could force the Biden administration to acknowledge that presence and put out more information about it when it's already thorny at this point.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


BRUNHUBER: Ethiopia is also on the U.S. president's foreign policy agenda right now. Joe Biden is sending one of his top Congressional allies to meet the country's Prime Minister to discuss the crisis in the northern Tigray region. The U.S. has described violence there as ethnic cleansing -- something Ethiopia rejects. Some 4.5 million people there are in need of humanitarian assistance.

David Mackenzie is in Johannesburg for us with more. David, so the U.S. is sending a Senator and millions of dollars in aid. So what, if anything, are they expecting in return from Ethiopia?

DAVID MCKENZIE CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the U.S. has put in, Kim, some very specific demands, they want the cessation of hostilities. They want the fighting in Tigray to stop. They want to allow unfettered access of humanitarian aid groups to help with some 4.5 million people who require assistance right now in Tigray. And they also want the regional forces from neighboring Amhara said to be withdrawn.

Now, you can sort of a carrot stick approach. They're giving this aid but are also sending a powerful Senator there to try and negotiate potentially with Prime Minister Abiy. [04:55:00]

Just a few weeks ago a team was in Tigray and recorded these scenes of the anguish people are going through, of their sons and daughters killed they say in this conflict. Prime Minister Abiy said that the conflict was over in late November. Here is what a doctor had to say to that team.


DR. ADONAI HANS, WUKRO GENERAL HOSPITAL: That would be a joke to me. That would be a joke because we are constantly receiving patients who are injured by the war. They are all civilians. They are all civilians, and we are constantly receiving patients who are injured. So if somebody says I don't care whoever it is -- if somebody says there is no war this Tigray, that would be a joke for me.


MCKENZIE (on camera): The U.S. also has to weigh out the regional political situation in that region despite the suffering of people in Tigray. Ethiopia has long been a close ally of the U.S. and receiver of a great deal of aid. But it's also the case that the Biden administration is pushing hard on these issues of human rights and humanitarian access unlike the predecessor in the White House -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thank you so much, CNN's David McKenzie in Johannesburg. Appreciate it.

And that wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is next.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Today president Biden and Vice President Harris head to Georgia to console a grieving community there and across the nation.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Biden administration locks horns with China and Russia. Why the president suddenly facing off against two adversaries at once.