Ken Cuccinelli on detained migrants: 'They can also go home'

Following Vice President Pence's visit to the border, acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli is interviewed Sunday about immigration on "This Week."
9:36 | 07/14/19

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Transcript for Ken Cuccinelli on detained migrants: 'They can also go home'
We begin with troubling new images from the border, human beings held by the U.S. Government in inhumane conditions. We have heard the horror stories for weeks. Sick children in unsanitary conditions. A migrant woman told to drink water from a toilet. The president called the reports phony. And on Friday, the vice president and several Republican members of congress went to the border to prove the critics wrong. To showcase the treatment of detained migrants. It became a tale of two detention centers. At the first stop, the vice president toured a facility built just two months ago, housing children. It appeared clean and well stocked with snacks and other supplies. Some children telling the vice president, they were being well cared for. They're taking good care of you here? But what came next, a haunting scene at a temporary overflow facility in McAllen, Texas, nearly 400 men packed behind cagelike fencing. No colts or beds to sleep on. "The Washington post" reporter Josh Dawsey, who was traveling with the vice president, put it this way, some of the men were sleeping on concrete. When the men saw the press arrive they began shouting and wanted to tell us that they have been in 40 days or more. The men said they were hungry and they wanted to brush their teeth. It was sweltering hot. Agents were guarding the cages wearing face masks. All told, the cameras were only allowed inside for four minutes. The vp there for even less time. I was not surprised by what I saw, it's overwhelmed and that's why congress has to act. The vice president was in there for just 90 seconds, seeing one grim snapshot of a crisis that appears to have overwhelmed those responsible for dealing with it. For more on this, let's bring in our first guest, Ken cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and immigration services. Thank you for joining us. My pleasure. I want to start with that video. I want you to take a look, watch these scenes from McAllen, Texas. I want to read more from Josh's report and what he saw, he writes, a stench from body odor hang in the air, it was sweltering hot. They needed to ask permission from the border patrol agents to drink. According to one of those agents, many of those men hadn't had showers from 10 days to 20 days. So -- I know the system is overwhelmed. Right. How can this happen in the United States of America. Well, because congress has let it happen, it's that simple. Look at just the supplemental appropriation last month. It was overwhelmingly focused on children and all of us prioritized care for children and in one month, we went from about 2500 kids being in cpb detention facilities down to about 300-some. With only a handful of those past the 72 hour metric that when we try to ship kids out of border patrol custody. So, when congress provides the professionals at the border what they need success happens. Success being measured as avoiding overcrowding. But, okay, so, and I understand there was a request from the administration back in February for 52,000 more beds. But, how can you allow this to happen? If you don't have the resources you can't detain these people? Request you? Sure you can. Human rights violation? No. I mean, they're being fed, they're being -- They don't even have enough space to lie down. Well, you know, that's a reality of facilities not designed to handle the swamping at the border. We have had four months in a row with over 100,000 apprehensions, annd may was the lead spike in that and over 70% of that was families and children. Were designed to handle in terms of detention. Ken -- But your alternative is to let them all go. Exactly. That's the wrong alternative. We're going to ignore the border. Isn't there a law about how you treat human beings? Standards. International standards. Human rights. If you can't detain them humanely, you have an alternative. To release them and ask them to come back for their asylum hearings. And of course, many of them never show up. But you -- And this president promised to change exactly that pattern of behavior that you just described and he's doing his best to achieve that. Some of what you described has happened even under president trump because of overwhelming numbers. At the same time, all of us in the department of homeland security and beyond are trying to manage these numbers as best we can. By shortening processing times by making ourselves more efficient on that front. When congress does help with appropriate facilities for the appropriate detainees, but look, they can also go home, which is our preference when they come illegally here. I deal with asylum in my agency and the people really claiming asylum with no basis, just totally fraudulently are clogging a system for legitimate asylum seekers. They're caught in this, too, let's not forget the people who are consistent with our laws, they're swept up in this, too. But when you look at those conditions, I mean, even the most hardened criminals in our criminal justice system aren't treated like that. Death row inmates don't live in conditions like that. Well, that's because we have a much slower flow of people coming into our prisons, there's not a sudden spike. I was in El Paso two weeks ago where you followed the vice president around, I believe, and they have gone in that sector of the border from the sixth busiest sector at the end of 2018, to number two in literally a matter of months. So, even when we look at the raw numbers coming across the border, let's not forget the drug cartels on the other side of the border have an awful lot to do about how those flows come over. They're making a killing off of these people. When is this going to end? This is going to end when we close asylum loopholes and we stop attracting people here illegally -- You're saying for -- Let me finish -- trying to overwhelm the system. Doing exactly what you said. That's just release them into the interior when they'll never show up again. This will go on until congress show signs of passing laws -- As you saw, the June numbers came way down from may. We expect to be taking steps on the administration's side to reduce the pull for folks to come here, even if congress won't act. Look, there are things that the Obama administration and trump administration agree on, like keeping families together in detention. The Obama administration opposed that, the trump administration has sought to fix it. The same thing with children who are -- or the question remains whether they're trafficked, to determine whether they're trafficked. The Obama administration wanted to close the same loophole the trump administration does. We can close those two loopholes on one piece of paper. One piece of paper. And when the house schedule came out between now and when they go on vacation -- I mean, the loophole you're talking about is allowing families to be detained together. But I want to move on to the I.C.E. Raids. The president said there would be a big, new effort for mass deportations he suggested starting today, is that going on? We never talk about the details of days -- Well, the president did. He said it was going to start today. He's the president. I'm not the president. Look, I have a lot of respect for our I.C.E. Officers, they're loyal and compassionate. But they have a job to do. It's a tough one. Enforcing the laws congress put in place. What's going on? What is the president telegraphing a big, new effort to deport people? Look, if we don't have interior enforcement we don't have deterrents. Then, people think they can get by that first line and it's done. It's over. It's not over. Over a million people in this country have -- who are here illegally, have gone through extensive due process, have removal orders and haven't left. How many people -- Well, we'll see how many I.C.E. Rolls on with. How far we have fallen that it's even news that I.C.E. Is doing its job. This is their job every day. Well, in fact, the numbers are fewer under -- you have fewer people being deported under president trump than under president Obama. Yes, that's right. That's correct. Ken cuccinelli thank you for joining us Now let's turn to

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

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