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News Brief: Border Report, 2020 Census, Trump's July 4


You never really want to have any situation described as a ticking time bomb. But that's how a senior manager at a Border Patrol detention facility described conditions at one site that he'd seen.


That description was part of a damning report that came out yesterday about conditions in those facilities. But this didn't come from immigrants' rights groups or a partisan group. This report was released by the Department of Homeland Security's own inspector general. It calls out U.S. Customs and Border Protection for dangerous overcrowding in its holding cells and says conditions, quote, "require immediate attention and action."

KING: NPR's John Burnett is on the line with us from Austin, Texas.

Good morning, John.


KING: All right. So there is some really disturbing details in this report. What else does it say?

BURNETT: Well, last month, the DHS inspectors visited five Border Patrol stations in two ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley. That's the southern tip of Texas that has the most illegal crossings in the nation. They found hundreds of children had been in jail cells totally inappropriate for kids for more than 72 hours, which is the federal limit. In one, they found 50 small kids younger than 7 years old who'd been in these conditions for over two weeks. They didn't have access to showers. There was no laundry to wash their clothes they'd been traveling in. Some were not getting hot meals.

You'll remember, we heard similar stories a couple weeks ago from the lawyers who visited those very sad children crowded into holding cells in Clint, Texas. And the auditors of this recent report said they were concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety of detainees and DHS agents.

KING: OK. This is really interesting, John, because we think of this as a problem for migrants, especially those children. But this report makes clear it's not just them. Why are DHS agents and officers also at risk?

BURNETT: Well, like you said, one senior DHS manager called this a ticking time bomb. The auditors said they had to cut short their visit to one station because they were afraid they would cause a riot.

KING: Wow.

BURNETT: Migrants were banging on windows and pointing to their beards to show how long they'd been in there. Some had already attempted to escape - really alarming situation.

KING: So earlier this week, John, on Monday, a couple of high-profile lawmakers visited some of these facilities.


KING: They were very, very critical in what they reported back. And there's been a lot of criticism from the public as well, too. How is this all adding up?

BURNETT: Well, the backlash is clearly growing. I mean, I'd say it's on a par with the outrage over the Trump administration's family separation policy last year. Both Democratic officeholders and demonstrators are up in arms about all the ways the government detains unauthorized migrants, from these Border Patrol cells to child shelters. Take a listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Close the camps. Close the camps. Close the camps.

BURNETT: That's a protest that happened yesterday in Austin where I live. About 300 folks showed up in a downtown park. It was one of dozens of organized protests that took place across the country. They were calling on the Trump administration to close the facilities where they keep kids and reunite them with relatives living in the U.S.

KING: All right. So the DHS under a tremendous amount of pressure; what are they saying in response?

BURNETT: Well, they say the situation on the southern border is an acute and worsening crisis. To dramatize it, they said in May, they were detaining an average of 4,600 people a day up and down the border. That's compared to fewer than 700 people a day two years ago. And there's simply no place to put them all. The government has already added a couple of 500-bed tents where the migrants can live. And they're adding a third. But CBP says their facilities are at peak capacity.

KING: So essentially we're doing the best we can. NPR's John Burnett in Austin - John, thanks so much.

BURNETT: You bet.


KING: All right. President Trump does not seem to think that his fight to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census is over just yet.

MARTIN: Right, even though the legal debate clearly is over. The Supreme Court said the administration's rationale for adding this question about citizenship wasn't sufficient. And the administration itself announced yesterday that it's going to go forward. It's going to print the census without that question. Last night, the president, though, complained about the developments on Twitter.

KING: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been covering the census. He joins us now from New York.

Good morning, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. So what is the deal? Is this fight over, or is it not over yet?

WANG: Well, now that President Trump has tweeted, it's unclear. He said last night he's asking the Justice Department and the Commerce Department to do more to look in to see if there can be a successful conclusion to this case. What that means, we're not sure, but we do know that the Supreme Court, again, has blocked this question for now and that printing has started on the 2020 census paper forms without this question - is this person a citizen of the United States? I asked a Justice Department spokesperson yesterday after that announcement was made to confirm, is this the final decision of the Trump administration, and I got a text back saying, confirm, no question on 2020 census. And I'm watching to see if there's a formal agreement signed between the administration and challengers of this question in Maryland that's being ordered by a federal judge.

KING: So the president is airing his grievances on Twitter, but groups who opposed putting that question on the census, they're basically saying, like, we won, right?

WANG: Right. A lot of groups that are challenging this question - that challenged this question in the courts, they are claiming victory. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, he was - his office was the first to file a lawsuit last year after this question was announced. And yesterday, he called for everyone to essentially move on from this issue and to think about the census more broadly. Let's listen to what he said.

XAVIER BECERRA: In order to get the funding our communities need, to get the government the needed resources so that we know how big our communities are and where people are located, we need to participate.

WANG: And that really is the challenge here, to get people to participate. And the concern is that all of this attention on the citizenship question, the legal challenges, has really essentially maybe tainted the well for a lot of immigrant communities, communities of color who are concerned about participating in the census. And also a big question - will the president keep tweeting about the census and the citizenship question?

KING: Yeah. But now the forms are being printed. So what happens next in the census timeline?

WANG: Well, we're going to see if President Trump is ready to give up this question or not. And, you know, what's interesting is that if President Trump or the Trump administration really wants to know who is or who isn't a U.S. citizen living in the country, the Census Bureau actually has been compiling records from other federal agencies, records that they say are more accurate than any self-reported responses to a citizenship question. And Census Bureau officials say they're ready to release this information. They just need an OK from the commerce secretary, who oversees the Census Bureau. So we'll see what happens with those records.

KING: Hansi, just briefly, this is, like, a big operation. What is in - what are other challenges to getting an accurate count?

WANG: You know, a big one is really to get every household in the country to participate to volunteer this information. And there is a big effort to hire workers to make sure there are enough workers to follow up with households that don't respond themselves.

KING: Interesting. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang - thanks, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome.


KING: All right. Big Fourth of July celebrations are a normal part of life in Washington, D.C. It is the capital, of course. But this year, there is a fight over how exactly to celebrate.

MARTIN: Yeah. President Trump is promising that this year's festivities here in Washington will be different.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It'll be like no other. It'll be special. And I hope a lot of people come. And it's going to be about this country, and it's a salute to America.

MARTIN: The president plans to give an address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There will be a parade, a whole lot of military pomp and circumstance, including tanks and a flyover. Democrats are taking issue with who is getting special access to the events and who's going to pay for all of it.

KING: NPR's Capitol Hill correspondent Claudia Grisales has been following this story.

Good morning, Claudia.


KING: All right. So what all does the White House have planned for tomorrow?

GRISALES: So there will be all of the traditional elements - a parade down Constitution Avenue, a concert that night at the U.S. Capitol and, of course, the fireworks. They usually go about 17 minutes. This year, it's going to be twice as long. And there will be some new things. There's going to be a flyover by the Blue Angels - that's the Navy ceremonial flight squadron - all of this because President Trump will be giving a speech at the Lincoln Memorial. And this will also attract a slew of protesters. I've heard there are plans for the baby Trump blimp to make an appearance. And on Monday, the president said that people in D.C. would also see big, heavy tanks around the Lincoln Memorial, too.

KING: All right. I personally love the idea of 34 minutes of fireworks, but, I mean, this sounds like the definition of a lot. What is it going to cost?

GRISALES: Well, we don't know the total cost yet. The White House and the Pentagon have been very tight-lipped about the exact costs, but there are some details the White House has shared. And some lawmakers are worried about an overnight Washington Post report that the extra pageantry could take $2.5 million in maintenance fees away from the National Park Service. The flyovers alone could cost an additional $300,000. Air travelers in D.C. that day can also expect some problems. The Federal Aviation Authority will have to shut down nearby Reagan National Airport for about two hours because of the flyovers and the fireworks. Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns about how expensive this will be. I talked with Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he's worried that this will be a partisan event that will stick taxpayers with the bill.

TOM UDALL: There are very specific regulations that talk about turning something into a partisan event, a campaign rally. Those are prohibited. Also, propaganda is prohibited. And so this is - gets into a very tricky area.

KING: So he's referring to President Trump's tendency to turn public events into basically campaign events or rallies for him. There's one more thing that's troubling people. This event is usually free. It's usually open to the public. But you've been reporting that some people are going to get special access. Who?

GRISALES: Yes. Even though previous Fourths had one secure area for all visitors, now there will be a new VIP area in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This is where the president is giving his speech. And the White House is issuing some of those tickets to lawmakers and their family and friends. And the RNC has also confirmed that it will be issuing a small number of those tickets, but they also say that's customary for a presidential party to issue such tickets for special events.

KING: And can normal people get a hold of one of those tickets do you think?

GRISALES: It doesn't appear so at this time.

KING: NPR's Claudia Grisales - Claudia, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "FLUID DYNAMICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a founding host of NPR's award-winning morning news podcast Up First. Martin's interviews take listeners behind the headlines to understand the people at the center of those stories.
Noel King
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.