News Brief: Trump Comments, Immigration Raids, Puerto Rico Governor

Jul 15, 2019
Originally published on July 15, 2019 10:54 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

So this has happened before - a news story unfolds that doesn't directly involve President Trump, and then the president lets loose with radioactive comments that re-center the news story around him.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In this case, House Democrats had been arguing. Four newly elected women were debating their speaker, Nancy Pelosi, over how to confront the president. And then the president wrote on Twitter, saying the progressive Democratic women should, quote, "go back," to clean up the, quote, "crime-infested places from which they came." Needless to say, all American lawmakers are United States citizens, and nearly all were born in the United States.

Democratic Representative Ben Ray Lujan responded on Fox News.

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BEN RAY LUJAN: That's a racist tweet. Telling people to go back where they came from - these are American citizens elected by voters in the United States of America to serve in one of the most distinguished bodies - in the U.S. House of Representatives. I think that's wrong.

KING: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, who covers the White House, is in studio with us this morning. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi.

KING: All right. So who was the president talking about in these tweets?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, he didn't name names, but it's widely felt that he was referring to four Democratic freshmen lawmakers - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Representative Rashida Tlaib and Representative Ayanna Pressley. They had been in the news for pressure that you mentioned that they have been putting on their own party leaders.

KING: And not to put too fine a point on it, but these women are citizens, and three of them were born here in the United States, yeah?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, right. President Trump seems to be ignoring that fact. Only Omar was not born in the country; she's from Somalia. But Pressley - she was born in Cincinnati. Tlaib - she was born in Detroit. Ocasio-Cortez - she's from New York. She was born in the Bronx.

KING: So the president interjecting himself into a fight among Democrats - what are Democrats saying about what he tweeted out?

ORDOÑEZ: They're responding strongly. You played the clip. Some are calling for Trump's impeachment - pardon me. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - she says the slogan "Make America Great Again" is really about - or always has been about make America white again. Those are her words.

It's also interesting because Trump may be the one to kind of end a skirmish between Pelosi and these same lawmakers. The four clashed over a border package. Pelosi questioned their influence. Ocasio-Cortez hit back, saying they're singling out women of color. It's been a difficult couple of weeks.

KING: OK. So Democrats not holding back. What about Republicans?

ORDOÑEZ: Republicans have remained largely silent, which has been the case in the past when Trump has kind of come under this kind of scrutiny about possible racism comments. But Trump himself - he's not backing down. He tweeted again last night, questioned why Democrats would defend these lawmakers. He also welcomed this issue becoming one at the ballot box.

KING: Let me ask you about something semi-adjacent to all of this because it does involve immigration. The Trump administration's trying to make deals with some countries in Central America, where a lot of migrants are coming from. It happened with Mexico - people are now remaining in Mexico for their day in U.S. immigration court. Now the president's trying this with Guatemala. What is - what's happening there?

ORDOÑEZ: So the Trump administration's trying to reach an agreement with the government of Guatemala where migrants on their way to the United States could stop in Guatemala and apply for their asylum and kind of stay there for their - while their asylum claims are processed. Local opposition has been swift. The Guatemalan government has said that it wants to reschedule this meeting that it was going to have starting today. But it's a big blow for the Trump administration because one of Trump's strategies has been reducing immigration levels, and this was part of that plan.

KING: And as with Remain in Mexico, it does appear to be working.

NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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KING: All right. So over the weekend, we expected to see the mass arrest of undocumented immigrants.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The Trump administration teased for weeks operations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement across at least 10 cities. The president said these operations would begin on Sunday. Many leaders in those cities and immigrant communities, and as well as protesters, were ready to fight back.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we do?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stand up, fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we do?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Stand up, fight back.

INSKEEP: So the protesters were out. But Sunday, the promised day of action, came and went with very little action.

KING: NPR's John Burnett covers immigration. He's on the line now from Austin. Good morning, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So I want to ask you what did happen this weekend, but maybe the better question is, what didn't happen this weekend?

BURNETT: Exactly. We've heard about very few arrests so far. We were told to expect that ICE agents would be conducting targeted enforcement operations against migrants who have an outstanding - excuse me - deportation order.

And ICE hates the term raids. They say these are not random roundups. Rather, they're targeting migrants who crossed the southern border recently, their cases were expedited, a judge turned down their asylum request and now they're removable. Immigrant advocates have been telling migrants all week, you don't have to open doors to ICE agents unless agents have an administrative warrant, which they usually don't have.

KING: And we did hear stories over the weekend of some people just not opening the doors. I mean, John, it's pretty unusual to telegraph immigration raids or roundups in a big public manner the way the president did because it just makes them harder to pull off, right? So do you think that's the reason this was much smaller than we expected?

BURNETT: Well, it's hard to say because law enforcement doesn't generally inform the world they're about to come arrest you, and we're not sure this thing has actually launched yet. It was President Trump who announced this deal to let his supporters know that his crackdown on unauthorized migrants is still going strong.

The problem with this operation, Noel, is that agents hate going door to door because it can be such a waste of time. It's labor-intensive. The immigrant is often not there. They say it's dangerous for the agents. And even if the target is there, as the lawyers tell them, they don't have to open the door.

WNYC talked to an eyewitness who said three ICE agents showed up at the locked entrance to an apartment building in Brooklyn on Saturday morning in search of one of these deportable immigrants when they were shouting, open the door. But no one did, and so they went away. ICE prefers to arrest migrants already in custody at a county jail or coming out of a courtroom.

KING: You know, of course, that ICE has been aggressively arresting immigrants since President Trump came into office. So what about...

BURNETT: Right.

KING: ...This operation, like, struck such a chord?

BURNETT: Well, I mean, this operation has been so controversial because it's families, most with no criminal convictions. All these are families who've been crossing the border seeking asylum. Trump wants to send a message that you can't just skip court, dissolve into the country and live here indefinitely. He wants to scare off the migrants who are thinking about coming north.

And often, many immigrant families could be complicated. I mean, mom and dad can be here illegally, and their children can all be U.S. citizens. And if you arrest the parents, what do you do with the kids? So expect pictures on social media of the children being marched into ICE camps along with their parents.

KING: And John, just to be clear, just because it didn't happen en masse over the weekend doesn't mean we shouldn't still expect roundups, yeah?

BURNETT: Oh, yeah. Just 'cause the raids didn't start yesterday doesn't mean they're not going to get rolling later this week. Immigration lawyers do tell us that they'll be closely monitoring ICE arrests. And there will be people out in the neighborhoods watching. And they're ready to help migrant families who are headed for deportation.

KING: NPR's John Burnett in Austin. Thanks, John.

BURNETT: You're welcome.

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KING: All right. In Puerto Rico, a lot of people are calling on the governor to resign.

INSKEEP: Yeah. These calls for Governor Ricardo Rossello to step down come after local media published leaked messages in which he and top advisers engage in misogynistic and often offensive exchanges. Demonstrators have been surrounding the governor's residence since Saturday, and many leaders of the governor's own party have abandoned him.

KING: Adrian Florido from NPR's Code Switch team is on the line from San Juan. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So let's talk about these messages - misogynistic, offensive. Where did they come from, and what exactly was going on? Who was saying what?

FLORIDO: Well, they came from a private group chat that the governor and several members of his Cabinet and closest advisers used to communicate over the course of several months late last year, early this year. And a few days ago, someone within started leaking them, page by page. And then on Saturday, Puerto Rico's Center for Investigative Journalism obtained and published all 900 pages. And they're pretty bad. In one instance, the governor calls the ex-speaker of the New York City Council a really offensive, misogynistic word that starts with WH.

KING: Oi.

FLORIDO: They insult journalists. They talk about discrediting the work of a federal police monitor. One of his advisers even makes a joke about the dead bodies that were piling up at the government - at a government facility before and after Hurricane Maria.

KING: Oh, my god.

FLORIDO: And there are 900 pages of this stuff.

KING: All right. So Puerto Rico's governor was already in trouble before these messages leaked, right? I mean, he's been dealing with a corruption scandal. Can you explain what's happening there?

FLORIDO: Right. And it didn't directly implicate him. But a few days earlier, the FBI had arrested a couple of his recently departed top officials and filed corruption charges against them, accusing them of steering contracts - lucrative federal contracts - to friends or businessmen with political connections.

And this was a big stain on the governor's reputation because he has made a big point of trying to project this image of transparency and a competent administration, especially since President Trump, as we know, has repeatedly accused Puerto Rican officials of being corrupt sort of as a justification for trying to withhold money that Puerto Rico still needs to recover from Hurricane Maria. So it's really been kind of one black eye after another for the governor this week.

KING: Yeah. So how are Puerto Ricans reacting to all of this?

FLORIDO: Oh, they're furious, and they're embarrassed. You know, pretty much everyone agrees that this is the biggest political crisis in Puerto Rico's modern history. You know, every day, Puerto Ricans have been showing up to the governor's mansion, as you mentioned earlier. His political opponents have jumped on this. But even within his own party, his supporters have mostly abandoned him. They're either saying that he should not run for reelection in 2020, and a lot of have also just called for his outright resignation. But the governor has said no. He said he's staying; he's not going anywhere.

KING: OK. So he's refusing. So what are the next steps for people who want him out? Do they just have to wait till reelection in 2020?

FLORIDO: Well, there has been talk within the legislature of beginning removal proceedings to take him out of the governor's mansion, but it's still not clear whether that's going to happen. There are also a lot of well-sourced journalists here who yesterday started basically talking about, hey, there might actually be other text message chats. And so if that stuff comes out - could be pretty embarrassing. And who knows what'll happen then?

KING: NPR's Adrian Florido. Thanks so much, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Yeah. Thanks, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "MULLED WINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.