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GA Voting Law Gives Dems Reason To Push Filibuster Change; U.S. Sets New Record For Single-Day Vaccinations; Protests Across U.S. Call For End To Anti-Asian Violence; Tony Calcado, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer, Rutgers University, Discusses Students Required To Get Vaccinated Before Returning To School; CNN Report: Thousands Of Uyghur Families In China Torn Apart By A Policy Some Call Genocide. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired March 27, 2021 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Even President Biden is blasting the measure calling Jim Crow for the 21st century.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's atrocities. The idea -- if you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And now, Congress is facing pressure to take action as similar bills are introduced across the country. Democrats want to enact new voter protection measures but that could require getting rid of the Senate filibuster in order to get something passed. CNN's Dianne Gallagher is in Atlanta for us.

So, Diane, tell us more about this Georgia law and the efforts to try to defeat it or challenge it.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, so look, this law in particular changes elections in Georgia really from top to bottom. But the parts of this new law that have had the most focus on them are those that would restrict ballot access in some way. And look, particularly we're talking about restricting ballot access disproportionately for voters of color and low-income voters in Georgia.

And some of those components are now requiring an ID for absentee voting instead of signature matching which is what Georgia used to do, limiting the use of drop boxes to just being inside early voting locations during early voting hours which is usually 9:00 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

And they give the state this broad power over local election management including the ability to, in some cases, replace local election officials. That is what has most activists the most concerned about it at this point. There's also the most headline-grabbing which is criminalizing giving food and drink to voters in line.

Now, look, Fred, there are a lot of changes in this law. And we've seen Republicans in Georgia, specifically Republican Governor Brian Kemp before and after signing it trying to defend it by saying that no, no, no, actually it's better for all voters. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Well it wasn't a voting rights bill. It was an election security bill that actually increases early voting opportunities on the weekend here in Georgia. It also requires a photo ID for absentee by mail just like when you vote in person. And it continues to, I think, will allow Georgia to have secure, accessible, fair elections in Georgia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: Yes, Fred, that whole election security thing, much of that kind of jumping off that big lie, those conspiracy theories that were spread around voter fraud that was not substantiated, not proven by former President Trump and a lot of his allies. We're seeing that across the country sort of rooted in reaction to that. They're restoring confidence that was shaken by things that just weren't true.

WHITFIELD: And then, Dianne, tell us more about this Georgia State Representative Park Cannon who was arrested after knocking on the door of the governor's office while that live stream, you know, signing was taking place. She's facing felony charges which if convicted, also have attached jail time. Tell us about where this case stands.

GALLAGHER: So, I can't say just -- I spoke with her attorney this morning and he said that she's still kind of focusing on healing after all of this. So, Democratic Representative Park Cannon, she represents the Atlanta area knocked on the door during the bill signing that happened behind closed doors when Governor Kemp signed it into law. She, and there were protesters and other lawmakers around her.

She's the only one though who was arrested. She was dragged out by state police, put into a police car. She was handcuffed. Now, they say that she stomped on a police officer's foot during this but look, her attorney says that she shouldn't have been arrested in the first place. She's an elected member. And she's facing now felony obstruction and disrupting the general assembly which of course she is an elected member. Here's her attorney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD GRIGGS, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE PARK CANNON: She's shaken but she's resolved to fight for justice and fight for the voices of the people she represents. You know, the millions of Georgians. She's going to stand resolute and make sure that we don't go one step further backwards, that we don't go to 1850 or not 1950 but we stand up and protect our voting rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GALLAGHER: And Fred, there is a protest scheduled to support her and also sort of fight back against this that was signed into law. There has already been a lawsuit filed by -- for the Democrats go to election attorney Marc Elias on behalf of three different organizations over that new Georgia law.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much for that. So, this new law in Georgia could result in boycotts including major league baseball potentially moving next year's all-star game out of Georgia. The Boston Globe reports the executive director of the MLB Players Association says the union is open to discussing a pullout with the league.

Georgia's lucrative film industry could also take a hit. Director James Mangold says he'll stop filming in the state of Georgia. And activists are pressuring Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola, Delta, and Home Depot to take action. Here's what the executive director of the voting rights group, the New Georgia Project told me earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[13:05:27]

NSE UFOT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE NEW GEORGIA PROJECT: In the past year and a half, the companies that you've named have given $7 million, not to just all Republicans, but to the specific sponsors of these anti-voting bills. We want them to stop funding Republican voter suppression or voter suppression period. But we also want them to speak up in behalf -- on behalf of the tens of thousands of Georgia voters who are their employees, right. Georgia is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And now, let's focus to on COVID 19. The U.S. setting a new record for daily vaccinations Friday, well over three million people got a shot that brings the country up to nearly 15 percent vaccinated, another step toward herd immunity. However, some states are seeing fresh surges. Cases are soaring in Michigan, leading health experts to worry similar spikes could be coming elsewhere.

Let's turn now to Pablo Sandoval live for us in New York. So, Polo, we have this mix, you know, of progress and setbacks. What is the outlook going forward?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Overall, Fred, the outlook is positive. It is a good one, especially when you consider the numbers that have been put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now showing that roughly one in five residents in every state have received at least one dose of the vaccine that amounts to close to 27 percent of the U.S. population. As far as those that are fully vaccinated, that's about 15 percent.

These are numbers that you should track that you will continue to see steadily climbing especially as supplies continue to grow. In fact, the White House announcing that they've been told Johnson and Johnson plans to actually make -- reach their goal of delivering up to 20 million vaccine doses throughout the coming month at locations across the country, including here in -- here in New York City. The best vaccination is set behind me, so there's not just that but also many states, in fact, nearly all expanding vaccine eligibility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL (voice-over): By now, over 137 million COVID-19 vaccines have gone into arms, reports the CDC. That's a new record. With that, another promising stat from the White House Friday which shows vaccinations are being administered at a new seven-day average rate of about 2.6 million shots a day. It's the highest we've seen.

The White House's COVID-19 coordinator says there's a case for optimism, but not for relaxation.

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: This is not the time to let down our guard. Follow the public health guidance, wear a mask, socially distance, and get a vaccine when it's your turn.

SANDOVAL: About 27 percent of the country has done just that receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far. Nearly 15 percent of America's population is already fully vaccinated, a number likely to climb sharply as more states expand eligibility in the weeks ahead. You can see most of them have announced plans to make vaccinations available to everyone 16 and up no later than the beginning of May. North Carolina, just one of the latest.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D-NC): So, we feel pretty good that by April 7th and the predictions of the supplies that we're going to get before then that we'll be able to handle it and get people vaccinated. What I'm concerned about is when the demand falls below the supply and we're out working to try to get people vaccinated.

SANDOVAL: Pfizer is setting sights on testing their vaccine safety and efficacy on five to 11-year-old children. Moderna continues to similar trials in which two of this Arizona nurse's children are participating in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In my eyes, I'm doing this because I love them, and I want them to be safe. I want them to be able to go back to normal and our kids to go back to normal at school.

SANDOVAL: Pfizer aiming to make their vaccine available for 12 to 15- year-olds by this fall. That's when Atlanta's public-school system plans to return to in-person learning five days a week. The focus remains on vaccinating as many eligible people as possible with new case positivity rates in much of the country remaining stubbornly high.

Michigan seeing among the highest infection rates in the country after experiencing a reprieve. And Vermont recorded 251 new infections yesterday, the highest single-day total in that state since the pandemic started.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDOVAL (on camera): And it was just this week that Amazon received FDA emergency authorization for an at-home COVID-19 test kit. This is one of those fairly reliable PCR tests that require a nasal swab that we all love to get, Fred. Those specimens are then collected. That way, their employees can know if they've been potentially exposed here.

So far, Amazon plans to use these tests as part of their employee screening program. No word yet if they actually plan to make those available to people outside of their workforce.

[13:10:05]

WHITFIELD: All right, Polo Sandoval in New York, thank you so much for that. All right, tomorrow on CNN, the medical leaders on -- in the war on COVID break their silence. CNN's Special Report COVID War: The Pandemic Doctor Speak Out begins tomorrow at 9:00 p.m.

All right, coming up, Rutgers University is requiring more than 70,000 students to get vaccinated for Coronavirus, even though many of them aren't even eligible yet. I'll talk live with the school's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

Plus, governors across the country are rallying behind the Asian- American community as families say goodbye to the victims of the spa shooting spree.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Several rallies are getting underway right now in support of the Asian-American community. This after last week's deadly shooting spree in Georgia. This was the scene near Los Angeles on Friday. Protesters taking to the streets demanding justice for the victims and an end to the rise in discrimination and violence aimed at Asian-Americans.

25 governors have also issued a statement of solidarity for the Asian- American community. This is all coming as family members of those killed in the Atlanta shooting spree are saying their final emotional goodbyes to their loved ones. Here's Natasha Chen.

[13:15:28]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Xiaojie Tan was one of eight people killed when a gunman targeted three metro Atlanta spas on March 16. Tan's family in China now worries for the safety of her only child, Jami.

MICHAEL WEBB, EX-HUSBAND OF XIAOJIE TAN: Sadly, Jami's family in China wishes for Jami, a proud American citizen, to return to China because they think it's just not safe here anymore. And who could blame? This is the kind of example our country is setting for the rest of the world. CHEN: Tan's ex-husband Michael Webb addressed family and friends at a memorial service Friday, saying our country should be ashamed at the thought that mass shootings might have been on pause last year due to the pandemic.

WEBB: Do we really have to quarantine ourselves to avoid being gunned down in the grocery store, our schools, our businesses, our places of worship? Must our flags always fly at half-mast? We as a country should be ashamed.

CHEN: He said, if only we could learn from Tan's example of dreaming big, working hard.

JIN JIN, ASIAN PACIFIC ISLANDER AMERICAN PUBLIC AFFAIRS: She would like many of us, first-generation immigrants, intelligent, hardworking, and always kind to others, loves to serve the community.

CHEN: Someone who made dumplings for her neighboring business owners and saved money by eating rice and vegetables in the back of her business instead of dining out.

WEBB: To save money for the retirement that never comes.

CHEN: Tan died just two days from celebrating her 50th birthday. She was a devoted mother who Jami describes as a feminist without meaning to be. Tan had separated from Jami's biological father while pregnant and made the unconventional choice of giving Jami her own Chinese last name at her birth instead of his. What would you say to her now, if you could?

JAMI WEBB, DAUGHTER OF XIAOJIE TAN: I will tell her that I love her. I'll tell her that. I love her. And I just want to hold her hand and then maybe give her a hug.

CHEN: Another family held a memorial for their mother and grandmother on Friday. Yong Ae Yue's youngest son said on their GoFundMe page that his mother was a Korean-born American citizen, a kind-hearted and amazing woman who loves to introduce people to her home-cooked Korean food and Korean karaoke. "The world will throw you trials and tribulations to test you, but this test feels so unfair." Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Natasha. All right, first, Georgia passed a law restricting voter access. Now, Democrats in the Senate are trying to pass a bill to protect voting rights. We'll fact-check Republican criticism of that bill straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:20:00]

WHITFIELD: Welcome back on the heels of Georgia adopting a new law restricting voter access, U.S. Senate Democrats are moving ahead on a voting protections bill. The For the People Act is designed to lower barriers to voting and increase voter registration.

Republicans have attacked the bill claiming it's just a partisan power grab that will damage the country's democracy. CNN's resident fact- checker Daniel Dale sets the record straight.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Some of the Republican criticism has been pretty factual, but some of it has either left out key context or has just been plain not true. Listen, for example, to something Senator Ted Cruz said at a hearing on Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Under this bill, there's automatic registration of anybody if you get a driver's license, if you get a welfare payment, if you get an unemployment payment, if you attend the public university. Now, everyone knows there are millions of illegal aliens who have driver's licenses who are getting welfare benefits who attend public universities. This bill is designed to register every one of those illegal aliens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DALE: Senator Cruz is just wrong here. The bill repeatedly says that only U.S. citizens are eligible to register and eligible to vote, not anybody. And the bill also says that the agencies that would be responsible for sending new voters names to elections officials also need to send information demonstrating that these people are indeed citizens. In summary, automatic voter registration doesn't mean anybody at all gets registered. There was still verification in place.

Let's now look at two claims from West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAC WARNER, SECRETARY OF STATE, WEST VIRGINIA: This one also overrules checks and balances in our election security. It mandates AVR including 16-year-olds. It bans ID laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DALE: Warner's claim about voter ID is just inaccurate. And what he said about 16-year-olds could use some more context. So, the Democratic bill does not ban states from having voter ID laws. It lets states continue to have those laws, but it makes them allow voters who do not show the required ID to instead submit a signed statement under penalty of perjury attesting to their identity and their eligibility to vote.

Now, critics are entitled to argue that this signature provision weakens or undermines voter ID laws, but it's just not true to claim that there is a ban on such laws.

As for 16-year-olds, the bill would register people as young as age 16 to vote but it explicitly says that states don't actually have to let anyone vote before they turn 18. It explicitly says, it doesn't touch state's own age requirements. Registering before 18 is called pre- registration and it's already allowed in more than 20 states.

Let's look at another claim from Senator Cruz.

[13:25:34]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUZ: This bill is designed to get criminals to vote. Our great many states across this country prohibit felons from voting. This bill strikes down all those laws. This bill says, if you're a murderer, if you're a rapist, if you're a child molester, we the Democrats want you voting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DALE: Here Cruz left out some context. The bill would not for states to allow incarcerated felons to vote. Rather it would require states to allow people who committed felonies to vote once they are no longer incarcerated. The majority of states already allow people to get back their right to vote either after they get out or after they finish their full sentence.

Finally, here's a claim from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who was arguing that this democratic bill is unnecessary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DALE: I mean, I guess the argument is that Republicans are just doing election integrity and election security not voter suppression, but come on, let's be honest. Since the 2020 election, Republican state legislators around the country have pushed proposals that would make it more difficult for people to vote.

We are talking dozens and dozens of bills, more than 250 by one count. These include proposals to reduce access to mail-in ballots, reduce access to ballot drop boxes, less early voting, more difficult voter registration, stricter ID requirements. It is pretty clear what's going on here. Daniel Dale, CNN Washington.

WHITFIELD: All right, straight ahead, Rutgers University requiring the Coronavirus vaccine for students this fall, but what about faculty and staff? We'll talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:31:29]

WHITFIELD: Most students at Rutgers will need to be vaccinated before returning to school this fall. The New Jersey school is among the first in the nation to require written documentation, although students can opt out of the program for medical and religious reasons. Rutgers has three campuses and more than 71,000 students. About 1,700,

or 1.5 percent of them, have tested positive since late May.

I'm joined now by Tony Calcado, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Rutgers University.

Good to see you, Mr. Calcado.

TONY CALCADO, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF RUTGERS UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Frederica, for having me.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely.

So 67 percent of people in New Jersey had been vaccinated. But right now in your state, people 55 and over, are eligible. There are some states like Georgia, Ohio and Florida, who have opened up vaccinations to college-age students.

But why are you making this announcement now?

CALCADO: So we're doing this for a number of reasons. First and foremost is we really want to build the safest campus in America. We find the vaccine is another tool that enables us to be able to get there and be able to do that.

We wanted to get this message out early to our students so they could make informed decisions to understand what it is the university will require as we move forward.

We had been looking at this since the vaccine actually came on the market in very late December, understanding this may be something we would be able to put in our arsenal on our path forward as we look to open.

So just this past week, Governor Murphy here in New Jersey stated that he thought that we are on track to extend vaccination to everyone from May 1st.

And we want to get this word out early. We want students to make the decisions they need to make.

WHITFIELD: Have you heard from the students and their parents?

CALCADO: So interestingly, yes.

WHITFIELD: And?

CALCADO: And we have had -- we have -- and we are pleasantly surprised and very happy about the reaction that we are getting.

For the most part, all of the email that I've seen and social media that we look at, there's a strong reaction that students are very happy. They want their college experience back. And they know this is a path forward in order to do that.

WHITFIELD: Is it your feeling that other college campuses, perhaps even most college campuses, will be doing the same thing?

CALCADO: I think so. I think that -- you know, being out in front of this certainly clears the path for others to jump on board and we're OK with that.

But we weren't out in front of this because of publicity or trying to be a trend-setter. We were out in front of this to give students enough time to know what it is we would require.

WHITFIELD: How are you going to handle students, families, who request an exemption? Will they be able to attend in person, or what other measures are being extended them?

CALCADO: Sure. So understand that we already require a number of vaccinations, and this really is just one more immunization that would be required.

We have a whole process already set up, both by way of people demonstrating that they have been inoculated, number one, and number two, the process extends to how to request an exemption.

So we have only five. We have for medical reasons, for religious reasons, for fully online degree-granting programs, something that was pre-pandemic already, and some of our continuing education, both remote and online as well. Or I should say off-campus as well.

[13:35:11]

Unfortunately, there are no waivers for vaccine hesitancy. Again, that goes back to everyone needs to make the most informed decision they can. And we will work with our students in order to get to a place where they are comfortable.

WHITFIELD: Are you expecting any kind of legal challenges because -- I mean, the vaccine is so new. It hasn't been considered among the vaccines that most states say is required in order to attend school.

CALCADO: So our general counsel, our Office of General Counsel, our general counsel has thoroughly vetted this and they strongly believe that, under New Jersey statute that exists today with respect to immunizations, that we have the ability to be able to do this.

WHITFIELD: Rutgers also has more than 23,000 faculty and staff members. But for them, the vaccine is recommended, not required. Why?

CALCADO: That's correct. So faculty and staff have already been in a vaccination cue. Many have already been vaccinated.

But as we look at the cohort of students, where is it we can make the biggest impact? It really comes down to our students.

So our students are highly mobile. They are highly interactive with each other. It is a college experience.

When we test, and we have a lot of data with respect to testing -- we run about 10,000 tests a week -- almost 10,000 tests a week. And our students test 70 percent higher when it comes to a positive rate than our faculty and our staff.

So we think that our energies really need, at this point in time, to be concentrated on our students to make them as safe as possible.

We feel that making them safe -- and again, 71,000 strong as you alluded to in the beginning of the piece -- they go back to their extended families and their extended communities. And we think, you know, this begins to create an umbrella.

We will continue to look at faculty and staff but we are not there at this point. We think the real difference is with our students.

WHITFIELD: Tony Calcado, thank you very much.

CALCADO: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All of the best there on the Rutgers University campus.

CALCADO: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely. Glad you could be with us.

Three students have filed class-action lawsuits against the University of Oregon and Oregon State University saying the schools owe them money after moving classes online because of the pandemic.

The students say they paid for a comprehensive on-campus academic experience and claim in their lawsuit, I'm quoting now, "continue to charge for tuition and/or fees as if nothing changed, continuing to reap the financial benefit of millions of dollars from students," end quote.

Oregon State University replied to the claims saying the school has remained open and their students continue to receive a high-quality education.

Join us for a new CNN special report as Ed Lavandera investigates one state, its unemployment system, and the impact of COVID-19. CNN special report, "THE PRICE WE PAID, THE ECONOMIC COST OF COVID," airs tonight at 9:00.

And coming up, thousands of families in China torn apart by a policy some are calling genocide. CNN investigates, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:43:01]

WHITFIELD: Children torn from their families and kept from leaving China's Xinjiang region. Their parents, desperate for answers, turning to CNN for help tracking down their loved ones.

In a new and heartbreaking report, Amnesty International estimates China's policies towards ethnic Uyghur Muslims have split up thousands of families.

The U.S. and other countries have labeled China's treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.

China denies the human rights abuse allegations, claiming their actions are justified to combat religious extremism and prevent terrorism.

But in an exclusive report, CNN's David Culver, CNN Producer Steven Jiang and Photojournalist Justin Robertson traveled to the heavily surveilled region. And with the parents' permission, they went in search of the lost children of Xinjiang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Followed by a convoy of suspected undercover Chinese police vehicles --

(on camera): The tail is still on us.

(voice-over): --mimicking our every turn through China's far- western Xinjiang region.

(on camera): Yes, they want to know exactly where we're going.

(voice-over): Blocking roads that lead to possible internment camps and keeping us from getting too close to so-called sensitive sites.

How we ended up on this journey had less to do about us and more about who we were looking for.

CNN searching for the lost Uyghur children of Xinjiang, a region in which several countries, including the U.S., allege China is committing genocide against the ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority.

Thousands of families have now been ripped apart due to China's actions. We tracked down two of them.

Now in Adelaide, Australia, Mamutjan Abdurehim constantly replays the only recent videos he has of his daughter and son.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Daddy!

CULVER: He has not held his wife or their children in more than five years.

He is among thousands of families from Xinjiang who've been torn apart, according to a new Amnesty International report.

[13:45:00]

MAMUTJAN ABDUREHIM, FATHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG: In April 2017, the mass internment had started. And as one of the first people detained, my wife was detained, too.

CULVER: Before they were separated, Mamutjan was studying for a PhD in Kuala Lumpur. His wife was studying English there.

ABDUREHIM: We were happy as a family. It was a -- it was good old days.

CULVER: But Mamutjan's wife lost her passport while abroad in Malaysia. Chinese officials told her that to renew it, she had to go back to Xinjiang.

She brought the couple's two young children with her, thinking they'd soon be able to travel back to be with her husband. But that was late 2015.

Amnesty says the forced separation of families allows China to control the narrative, keeping something precious to dissuade their loved ones outside the country from bad-mouthing China.

Chinese officials have repeatedly pushed back against claims of genocide in Xinjiang, the Foreign Minister recently calling it preposterous, adding.

WANG YI, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translation): (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: "We welcome more people from around the world to visit Xinjiang. Seeing is believing. It is the best way to debunk rumors," he said.

So, we decided to try to find the missing children ourselves, with permission from their parents.

The five-plus-hour flight from Beijing ended with a strange request from the cabin crew. As we approached Kashgar's Airport to land, all window shades had to be shut. No explanation why.

We went through a standard COVID test for all arriving passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye, thank you.

CULVER: Loaded up a rental car and roamed without anyone stopping us. Though, like much of China, you're always watched.

You immediately encounter the vibrant and richly diverse culture of this region. The faces, also different, perhaps not what you'd expect in China.

From the Grand Bazaar to the Central Mosque, we stroll through the reconstructed Old Town. It's here, we began to notice people trailing us.

(on camera): There are usually individual men, on phones, and kind of keeping a social distance, shall we say.

(voice-over): But it seemed they wanted to know who we were searching for.

This video of Mamutjan's little girl was a critical clue for us. We matched the alleyways of old Kashgar with the backdrop in the video. The first day, no luck.

CULVER (on camera): Hit another dead-end.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: This might be it.

CULVER: Let's try this.

(voice-over): Twenty-four hours, and 20,000 steps later --

JIANG: Hello?

CULVER: -- we weaved our way through one last corridor and, suddenly --

(on camera): That's her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: Do you know this man? Is he your father?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: Oh, that's your dad?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): The daughter and her grandparents, Mamutjan's mom and dad, were not expecting us, but they let us into their home.

Muhlisa (ph) told me she's going to turn 11 in May. But amidst her innocence, an awareness not to say too much.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: She told us she had not spoken to her father since 2017.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

JIANG: Your passport was confiscated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

CULVER: And when we asked her.

(on camera: What would you want to say to him, if you could talk to him?

JIANG: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER (voice-over): "I miss him," she later told me.

(on camera): Can you tell me some of that what you're feeling?

JIANG: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE). CULVER (voice-over): "I don't have my mom with me right now. I don't have my dad either. I just want to be reunited with them," she told me.

Off-camera, her grandmother, overcome by grief.

(CRYING)

CULVER: As I asked about her mother, and if she'd been sent to a camp?

(on camera): How long was she away for?

(voice-over): She quickly bolted to her grandfather, translating our question from Chinese to Uyghur for them. Camps are too sensitive a topic to discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: As they talked, notice the sudden murmurs in the background. It seemed word of our visit had gotten to officials, and back to the family, bringing an abrupt end to our visit.

(on camera): She wants the family together.

JIANG: Right.

CULVER: And that's --

JIANG: But she wouldn't want to -- she didn't want to say they want to go abroad.

CULVER (voice-over): But we still wanted to know where Mamutjan's wife and son were. The family says they'd been living with her parents in a house nearby.

(on camera): It's locked on the outside, so unless they're gone for the day or they're gone permanently.

(voice-over): We asked the Chinese government if the wife is currently in a camp. They have not gotten back to us.

(KNOCKING ON DOOR)

CULVER: While on the ground in Xinjiang, there was a second set of children we wanted to track down. Their parents are in Italy.

MAMTININ ABLIKIM, FATHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG (through translation): My children thought that we have abandoned them that we don't care about them.

CULVER: After having five children, and getting pregnant with a sixth, they say authorities wanted to force the mother to have an abortion and throw the father in jail.

MIHRIBAN KADER, MOTHER OF CHILDREN TRAPPED IN XINJIANG (through translation): The policies were too strict, it was impossible to take all our children together with us. So, we left our homeland and our children in desperation.

CULVER: The older children, now aged between 12 and 16, were left behind with their grandparents.

[13:49:59]

Mihriban and Ablikim hoped the separation would be temporary, until they could secure more visas. But they went nearly four years unable to contact their children. And they got word that family members were being rounded up and sent to camps.

Determined to reunite the family, their cousin in Canada, Arafat Abulmit choreographed their escape attempt, from half a world away.

Their parents had finally secured visa approvals from Italy for their children. In June 2020, Arafat managed to communicate to the kids.

ARAFAT ABULMIT, COUSIN OF UYGHUR CHILDREN: This is your only shot, if you just stay, your life is going to be staying there, nothing we can do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

CULVER: On their own, they traveled more than 3,000 miles, farther than going from L.A. to New York, recovering hidden passports, eventually flying into Shanghai.

(on camera): When the children arrived here, in Shanghai, they were excited and happy. They never thought they would make it this far.

(voice-over): But their repeated attempts to obtain their visas failed. Arafat also says multiple hotels turned the kids away because they're Uyghur. They finally found a place willing to take them in.

All the while, they dropped geo-location pins for Arafat to know that they were OK. The last pin dropped on June 24th, a few blocks from the hotel.

(on camera): Do you know who these children are? Have you seen them before?

(voice-over): Arafat, in Canada watched, then silence, minutes, to hours, to days, to weeks.

ABULMIT: And then I tell like my aunt, they might have been detained. Mihriban, in Italy, they -- they start crying like they cannot believe it.

CULVER: After several phone calls, he learned that Police had tracked them down. China's giant surveillance network zeroing in on the four children.

Arafat later found out they'd been sent back to Xinjiang and thrown into an orphanage.

In Rome, the parents heard the devastating news of their children's detention, as they begged for help outside Italy's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office.

The Italian government refused to comment to CNN on what happened.

China has also not responded to requests for comment on the two families' cases.

Having found Muhlisa (ph) for her father, we hoped to find the four Ablikim children to bring their parents some comfort.

We headed out before sunrise, leaving Kashgar for the hour-or-so drive to get to the orphanage where they were sent.

That's the eldest boy, Yehya, standing in front of the building a month ago.

As we drove, we watched as one car after another trailed us.

(on camera): Yes, this is it, right here, where he took the photo.

(voice-over): After making a pass by the orphanage, we headed to one of the kid's schools, and we asked to see the kids. Eventually, a local official showed up and asked for about 30 minutes to get back to us.

(on camera): It was more than two hours ago. But they've yet to let us talk to the children.

(voice-over): We later made contact with Yehya through video chat.

(on camera): Do you want to be with them? Do you -- do you miss them?

(voice-over): "I do," he says. He answered quickly and kept looking off-camera. Someone was directing him to answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: "Tell them that you see your sister every day," the voice said.

JIANG: He has been coached, obviously.

CULVER (on camera): Can you tell us about your journey trying to reunite with your parents last year?

(voice-over): When we asked about the Shanghai escape attempt, he deflected.

Much like Muhlisa (ph), here was another child keenly aware that the way they speak and what they say could impact those they love.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye-bye.

CULVER: After about eight minutes, we ended the call.

(on camera): They are literally right over there.

JIANG MALE: Right.

CULVER: And we can't see them.

(voice-over): We later learned that three of the children were interrogated about our conversation.

Despite the pressure that the children face every day, late last month, they even risked sending out a photo message to their parents. The four of them, lined up, holding a sign in Chinese saying, "Dad, Mom, we miss you," a rare glimpse of an uncensored truth.

With each passing hour of our being on the ground in Xinjiang, it seemed the number of likely security agents trailing us increased, adding pressure to our search.

But before leaving, we reconnected with Mamutjan, who was hungry for any information on his wife and kids, and desperate to see his little girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: We watched him, as he watched her.

ABDUREHIM: It's my daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

ABDUREHIM: That's my mother.

CULVER (on camera): Do you know this man? Is he your father?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: Oh, that's your dad?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

CULVER: We've been talking to your father.

ABDUREHIM: That's my father. He got so old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

(CROSSTALK)

ABDUREHIM: We're missing them for four years.

CULVER (voice-over): For Mamutjan, it's part relief, seeing that she's OK, even proud that she still wants to be a doctor.

(on camera): What would you want to say to him, if you could talk to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE). CULVER (voice-over): But to see her break down, sending her love to her father, well, no dad, no matter how strong, can hide that agony for long.

ABDUREHIM: Poor thing!

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

(CRYING)

[13:55:03]

ABDUREHIM: What kind of country does this to people, to innocent people?

CULVER (on camera): -- of what you're feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE).

ABDUREHIM: She definitely misses me, too.

CULVER: She clearly -- your little girl, and she is hurting, but she loves you a lot, and that came across right away.

ABDUREHIM: It is terrible. It is a terrible situation. I can't even describe my feelings right now.

I will try to bring them here, to Australia, and I will try my best. I will do everything I can.

CULVER (voice-over): Beneath that relentless determination an inconsolable grief for years lost and hope for families to be whole once more.

David Culver, CNN, Xinjiang, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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