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Rep. Karen Bass On Her Border Trip To Texas Last Week

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration is facing a major deadline on immigration this week. Thursday is this deadline to reunify migrant children who were separated from their families along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California has joined with several members of Congress to introduce what's called the Keep Families Together Act. Late last week, the congresswoman traveled to Brownsville, Texas, to see for herself what the situation at the border is like now. She joins us now to talk about what she saw. Congresswoman Bass, thanks for being with us.

KAREN BASS: Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: So I understand you toured a processing center for migrants in Brownsville along with a detention center. What stood out to you?

BASS: Well, what stood out to me is the hundreds of people that we saw literally in cages, as now I think most of the world has seen on TV. But what was very sad was seeing all the children. I spoke, myself, to about six or seven women who were pregnant - very young women. One was 8 1/2 months. I spoke to a grandmother who was separated from her grandchild because apparently that doesn't qualify. So what stood out to me is the fact that family separations are continuing.

The other thing that stood out was the lies that were told to parents and children about the separation. So for example, a parent was told, we're going to - you're going to go to court; leave your child here; you'll see your child when you come back. They come back. The child is gone. They don't see the child for a couple of months. The child is told, your parent has abandoned you. You will never see them again. That is just unconscionable. So that is what we saw from the facilities that we went to.

MARTIN: Let me ask you. You said that it's clear to you that separations are still happening.

BASS: Yes.

MARTIN: What's the evidence of that because - with the people that you spoke with, are they in the process of being reunited? Or are they newly separated?

BASS: Well, we saw people at every stage. We also saw reunifications, by the way. So the example is the grandmother. So apparently, family separations only mean a nuclear family - so a father and a mother. But the grandmother didn't qualify. And the grandmother who was - we couldn't even console her. She was crying hysterically. She had raised this child from infancy because the mother had left. And she was not allowed to stay with her child. Her child was taken from her because she didn't qualify as family.

MARTIN: According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, border crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border are down from May to June. And clearly, it is difficult to know how much of that has to do with the Trump administration's policies. But would you agree that it is at least possible the policies have worked as a deterrent?

BASS: Well, I think that that could be true. And I think the sad thing is that this, to me, is a real stain in our history. We will look back 10 years from now. And when some of these children - and that's the purpose of my legislation, by the way. I believe that many of the 2,000 children that remain separated - I believe that many of them will never see their parents again. And I say that because parents are being deported before they are reunified with their children. The children are sent all over the country. There has not been until now - and maybe, I'm not really sure - any tracking system.

So my legislation calls for, No. 1, there to be a tracking system, No. 2, for parental rights not to be terminated and, No. 3, for the U.S. government to take responsibility because, as you well know, right now the government is not responsible. It is on the parent. The parent is responsible to reunify with their child.

MARTIN: Congresswoman Karen Bass of California, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

BASS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA'S "REEL LIFE (EVOLUTION II)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.