Debate over Trump administration's 'zero-tolerance' policy heats up

ABC News' political analysts break down the latest on the immigration policy.
14:26 | 06/19/18

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Transcript for Debate over Trump administration's 'zero-tolerance' policy heats up
A yeah. Hi Darren welcome to ABC news live on ABC news political director Rick Klein joined here by Jon Cohen our ABC news contributor and a former. Acting undersecretary Department of Homeland Security Geneva sans from art justice team will be joined in a few moments from Alley Rogen. Up on Capitol Hill we have a lot to get to this has been a fast moving story an extraordinary couple of days really. The only story that seems to be consuming Washington right now his story of this new policy implemented by the trump administration separating. Children from their parents at the border. One before we talk about that play a little bit of what president trump had to say about this policy and an event the little earlier today. We want to solve this problem we want to solve family separation I don't want children take it away from parents. And when you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally which should happen. You have to take chill you know. Now we don't have to prosecute him but that would not prosecuting him for coming in illegally that's not. We're here more from the president in a little while the B up on Capitol Hill outlining some of the potential solutions for John colonists as someone who knows this so well. You have to take the children as what the president just said is he right. Yet he has actually cracked com. The reason why we're dealing with such a significant crisis at the border today. Because this administration decided two months ago that they were going to prosecute every person caught illegally crossing the border. And it. Not just prosecute but put them in pre top trial of attention to that means are being put in to give being provided to the US marshals are being prudent basically a federal jail. And you can't put children in jail somebody who's being held prior to being prosecuted. Across to the policy though could change it's just the once you'd pursue that policy of of zero tolerance. It's that that's when he's left with no other options than the attention told exactly it's zero tolerance of a problem here. We have arrested and prosecuted illegal border processors for decades. But we've lost the use of the car prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutors and law enforcement and this is something that happens every day in every community across the country. Make decisions based on what's best for public safety as it relates to prosecuting. And putting in jail people prior to there there court appearance. And Geneva even as we seen these extraordinary images begin to emerge and and the sound of these children it becomes the dominate the headlines. You've been getting some new information about the numbers here some details on how many children exactly. We're talking about fill us in on what we know so far about how many kids are popular. That's rate since the zero tolerance policy went into effect in early mainly now know that over 2000 children have been made I'm accompanied. To other different and it's a cent million company made an accompanied. Unaccompanied minors come across the border and they're also going into government custody but more than 2000 have been separated from their families. McDonough saying there coming across Customs and Border Protection come in contact with Border Patrol and then as being referred to HHS while their parents' ire. Ten for prosecution. So it will gonna talk a little moment it politics of this and how it's it's developing but. Is there a process Jon in Geneva for returning these kids what what's the end process look like do we know any of them have been released already because it's been resolution to the case. You know as of today that they don't have numbers on how many people have been reunited. Act and they said that department of homeland security and health and human services said today that it's an ongoing process they're working threat there have there are. Phone numbers in place that Border Patrol provides to family it's too calling find out where their children are so there are. Lee is in place for is that parents to know where their children are but the reunification as a work of. Time to have confidence in the system ends up working the call is 800 number yet EU UU reunite with children are there going to be kids maybe there already kids that. Are not just made unaccompanied but are kind of lost in the system. So there are several problems here one as we've seen in other instances in the past. What's coming out of the administration regarding this program it is is very clear. That you getting consistent messages there's a lack of information from people who are briefing. But the second thing isn't has really important. Is that. These types a zero tolerance programs are highly resource intensive they take a large number of the people and money and space to deal with. This systems and come crashing down because our systems are not designed to handle this flow of people coming into being detained. From border crossings. And this of course has sparked an outpouring of of concern of anger outrage at directed at the administration over this policy. One thing that strikes me is that you not see many people buying what the president has been saying about this which is that this is because of Democrat laws and he's just has to enforce these laws. In fact something so that reality ordinary happened just a few moments on Capitol Hill. This is senate senator Mitch McConnell senate Republican leader in the president on his way to Capitol Hill this is what senator McConnell said in advance of that as. Support and all of the members are Republican conference report. The plan it keeps families together. Lawler immigration status is determined we had a very robust discussion lunch. About the need to fix the problem. Understand the president just called on us. To fix the problem. And obviously through that do occur in the senate would require bipartisan discussions. Some key key there is that he seemed every United States and on the Republican subtle 51. I think that children should be able to remain with their parents pending resolution fortune of the Democrats are on board for that as well he gets complicated don't really fast with an Alley Rogen. Our Capitol Hill producer on the line today. To help us sort this through. What's the significance first of all of what McConnell is saying now lots of Republicans on capitol will also are acknowledging. The president could change this like that snap of the fingers. Changes the policy what kind of pressure they bring to vary in advance of this meeting tonight. Well Rick it's fascinating we sign leader McConnell. Coalesce his party around the problem but the issue is that nobody seems to agree on the solution. Democrats have guardian produced a series of bills including one that would just narrowly. And this policy that is family separation. But Republicans in the senate are already saying that that's simply extending what they to recently call it catch and release policy. Some Republicans have also introduced bills. That would so little further they would bring in more or immigration judges to adjudicate the cases of these parents that are being held. They would also limit the threshold. That allows people to claim a silent it. In effect limiting the amount of people who can legally claim a silent Democrats say that's a non starter and in fact right after we heard from Mitch McConnell. Democratic senate leader Schumer came out and said. Actually this is a problem that president trump needs to fix he dug this hole and he needs to get all of congress and himself Alan habit so. Even know everybody can read it as the big issue in the politics wrecked here are still just the same as they are our. It is Etan Cohen is that true that the only other way to do this is cast this is that the only other option that the the administration would have once. Given where the law stands and what you have to do with children the of the prohibition against holding them in other connoisseur. Well again let's just declare the reason why we've seen sudden increase in people being detained him he's being separated is because of the decision to prosecute criminal mind. All of these border profit and to put them in Asia. So they can do a number of things they can issue notices to appear. And then place the families into the detention facilities for immigrant violators. They could make a decision not to this I prosecute criminally. Families. That are crossing the border illegally so that a lot of things you. But the bottom line is to fix a problem yet understand a problem and it's it's it's very unclear from a lot of the public rhetoric. That's been coming out of administration the whether they Philly all right clearly understand with the problem this again it's this zero tolerance policy. But criminally prosecuting all illegal border Chrysler's and put him in pretrial detention. And there are some family tensions. That didn't immigration enforcement had so its potential families could go there while they're waiting there civil proceedings for immigration and. And Alley I have been struck by how many Republicans are saying they the president should end this right now you're not hearing that quite from. Now he's getting close to that line but he isn't quite doing that you have a sense of how this pressure is is growing there he's pretty close to an outright Republican rebellion right now. Oh with a number of folks including some of the most politically connected folks in Washington saying this is the wall policy they're worried about these images. Yeah I think is a couple things going on here Rick number one is that everybody knows Republicans included that this is not good politics they want to end this as soon as possible. The issue for McConnell though in wrangling his troops. Is that there are already some divisions among Republicans. Some Republicans say they want to attach this. Limited narrow bill to something a little more expensive and potentially dealing with things like. Limiting the number of begged me that diversity visas that are available for people. Ending that policy. Family reunification that's been a big priority of president front. So there's this intern assigned battle that you're seeing erupt within the Republican Party even as they all recognize. That this needs to be changed quickly. So. It's a political problem but I don't think anybody really knows how this is going to get resolved right yet right. John Paul and walk us a little bit how the Department of Homeland Security interacts with this because we're talking in the department of justice policy it is have zero tolerance. As of as a former acting undersecretary there how does this get entered into the realm. Of DHS's responsibility with responsibility for the border because I'm Q I'm curious because we've seen. The Homeland Security secretary Pearson Nelson so outspoken on this as this kind of public feast of this from the administration. Yeah I can't believe you know having spent others years' worth in the Department of Homeland Security I can't believe that the path that DHS leadership wasn't at the table. When this policy was being designed developed and ultimately implemented now I seriously doubt. That the law enforcement professionals. The border law enforcement professionals. Who work every day at the border had a lot of input because zero tolerance strategies. Are not something that generally work out well law enforcement so while the Justice Department in the attorney general may have announced it. And they certainly have a role here in the fact that they run the immigration judges and the unique prosecutorial decisions. Ultimately it's an operational response believe department of homeland security and ensure that the secretary was right at the table when these decisions were made. Since you have to be on board Florian understand on the finance. Even as she goes out there defenses. Yeah absolutely I mean you know this is a very very significant program it has a huge impact on DR and DHS resources but but immigration and customs enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. If a decision. In most administration if a decision like this was made and the secretary wasn't involved but secretary walked out the door. Interest in times before we go Alli Rogen up on capitol what are we expecting. From the president tonight no we secure a couple hours away from of the meeting is a bunch of different bills out there meeting with house Republicans what's the expectation. How much clarity we're gonna get on the president's position. So the state of play Rick on the house side is that charities humane built that they've actually been working on for several weeks now there is eight. Relatively moderate bill that would address child separations. And address the permanence status of doc or recipients those childhood rivals to the United States. There is also more conservative option that would limit overall immigration rates although it would also deal with the issue of family separation that soak. That's could be the big agenda here but certainly I'm sure president trump is going to make clear his position. On what to do with and we separations we heard from him earlier today where he basically rejected a lot of the things that are that Republicans are proposing including. Adding more immigration judges to more quickly move the process of adjudicating these cases once illegal immigrants are in federal custody. And Rick with the president embrace the American flag earlier today and there's any of American flags around Capitol Hill so. Perhaps they'll be some more that. Literally embracing the American flag we should note thank you Alley and GB just. Just briefly that we broke loose member of congress Democrats in particular still trying to go down to these detention center for hear reports of some of them are Salim blocked. In what they're doing what are you hearing about access questions in terms of visibility. Of what's actually going on behind the doors inside his attentions at. There's reporters have been let into one health and human services facility where the children are being tapped after they're separated. Members of congress for awful at and there are no cameras allowed sell videos and provided by the government. And also to the processing signers under Porter park also press and members of congress have been allowed in the air but only if you facilities around the pac. He had a lot of complaints though about not actually knowing John Horn before we let you know. You see a light at the end of this tunnel was or anything in the last couple of days that it's that the in your mind says okay well this is how the story can and. Known person I don't mean I'm a law enforcement person that's been over 32 years working on Pressman Homeland Security. Which were overseeing two days being driven by Poland's politics being driven by the political rhetoric in the per. Political ideology of this administration. And the problem also is that. He's there I guess that this is a very resource intensive operation so while we're putting more and more resources. Into arresting these people holding these people transporting people processing these people. That's Border Patrol went ice agents who aren't going after violent criminals for not stopping drug trafficking. They're not dealing with violent gangs and that's a real question. All right John Allen Geneva sans thanks so much for being here thank you for watching. Stay tuned here ABC's live a lot more developments still to come on ABC news political director recline thanks for watching. Yeah.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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