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Trump Administration And Family Reunifications

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today's the deadline for the Trump administration to reunite migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. A court filing from earlier this week, though, says hundreds of migrant parents cannot be reunited with their kids because they are already out of the country, either because they were deported or decided to leave voluntarily.

Elizabeth Holtzman is with me now. She's a former Democratic congresswoman, and she co-authored the Refugee Act. That's the law that sets guidelines for how migrants can enter the country as refugees. Ms. Holtzman resigned from the Homeland Security Advisory Council last week over concerns about the administration's zero-tolerance policy. Good morning, Ms. Holtzman.

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN: Good morning.

KING: As part of your resignation, you wrote a very strongly worded letter to the Department of Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. It has gotten a lot of attention. And I want to read part of it now. You write, quote, "under your administration and that of Donald Trump's, DHS has been transformed into an agency that is making war on immigrants and refugees." That's very strong language. Can you tell me, what did you mean by that?

HOLTZMAN: I mean exactly what I said. You mention that I was the co-author of the Refugee Act of 1980. That was a bill, a law, that was not controversial when it was passed. And that was designed to say to the world, here we are, the United States. The Statue of Liberty is real for us. We welcome people, and we have a framework for doing that. And we welcome refugees. And what's happened, instead, is that we have a president of the United States who calls the immigration of people to this country an infestation and who has done everything he can to be cruel and horrific to immigrants, to refugees.

KING: The administration does seem to be in some ways either amending or backing off the zero-tolerance policy. A court has ordered them to reunite families. Secretary Nielsen says she's optimistic about meeting that deadline. Here she is on Fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: We're on track to do it. We are working hand in glove with HHS. And it's certainly our intention to reunify all families that are suitable.

KING: OK. So she says we're on track to do it. Do you think that's correct?

HOLTZMAN: This is the secretary of Homeland Security who said we do not have a policy of separating parents from children, period. So she lied then, and she's lying now. You heard the last word of her statement, which was they're on track to reunite families where it's suitable. Well, is it suitable - it's not going to be suitable for them to reunite children with parents who've been deported, knowing that their children were here and regardless of that fact, regardless of the harm to the parents and regardless of the terrible harm to the children.

KING: Let me ask you, though, about repercussions. If the government does not meet this deadline to reunite these kids with their families, do they actually face any repercussions? Does anyone get in trouble?

HOLTZMAN: Well, the first repercussion has been the horror that most Americans feel at this administration, including the president and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, for adopting this policy to begin with. The second repercussion is the horror that people all over the world feel at looking at the United States. We used to be a symbol of a country that expressed the most humane and finest values. And now we're a country that steals children, kidnaps children, takes them away from parents.

KING: So you're saying, in fact, that you think there may be political repercussions.

HOLTZMAN: Well, in addition to that, there could be other repercussions. Remember; the court can impose a contempt sentence on people in the government who do not comply with the court order. I hope he uses his policy to put anyone in jail, including the secretary, including anyone underneath her who has failed to comply with his order.

KING: That is former Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman. She resigned from the Homeland Security Advisory Council last week. Thank you.

HOLTZMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.