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Progressives are battling the border aid bill because its lack of accountability provisions means there would be no way to tell if the money was spent on enforcement instead of aid

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MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us. The photos we’ve all seen of the bodies of Oscar Martinez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, lying face down among the reeds in the murky, muddy water along the US-Mexico border gripped this nation and the world. Then came to light the horrendous conditions, the filth, the lack of sanitation, that children who had crossed the border were being held in after human rights workers visited those facilities. And in the midst of all of this revealed horror, the head of ICE resigned, on the heels of the Homeland Security Secretary resigning, which was a couple of months back. And now the battle over the $4.6 billion for aid for the border seems to be tearing apart the Democrats and showing the crisis that is splitting this nation, is splitting people in this nation. We’ll be covering this. Today we talk with Eddie Carmona, who is Legislative Director of PICO California. Eddie, welcome to The Real News. It’s good to have you with us.

EDDIE CARMONA Thank you, Marc. Glad to be here.

MARC STEINER So things really are unfolding very quickly in all of this. There were reports that I heard from public radio first, and then I read in The New York Times and read in some other journals, about the conditions children were being kept in— separated from their families, from the people who they came over with. I’ll read some of the quotes here in just a moment to give some pieces of reflection on this, but A— I’m curious where you found out about this, how long you’ve known about this, and your thoughts?

EDDIE CARMONA Yeah. In terms of, I mean, in terms of just a decision happening, I mean, we found out a few minutes before it broke in terms of the decision that was going to happen. I mean, I think part of this is, it’s just disgusting to me to know that we’re throwing more money— $4.6 billion— at border enforcement and detention when we really need to be investing that money into more judges and more infrastructure for people to get their asylum processed. People are fleeing countries that are dealing with horrendous situations, part of a which we’ve had influence in destabilizing some of these Latin American countries, and have a history of that. So the fact that there is no accountability, there is no mechanisms and checks for them to not use this money to do more enforcement, do more security, all of that stuff—This is just another way for Trump to get money for his militarized operation at the border. So we really need to do something different about it. I think the American people need to step up and contact their member of Congress.

MARC STEINER So let’s talk a bit for a moment just about that. I want to come back to the border, but I want talk about this battle going on in Congress and what your assessment is. I mean, when you see the tweet that Mark Pocan from Wisconsin, the Congressman, sent out which almost caused— for what was described to me on the floor— was like 1854 and was a physical battle on the floor between he and other people who formed the caucus that were negotiating with conservatives. And he wrote in his tweet that set them off, “Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the Child Abuse Caucus? Wouldn’t they want to at least fight against contractors who run deplorable facilities? Kids are the only ones who could lose today.” So in that back and forth—I mean. The argument seems to be from the Pelosi side—Wait, before we do this, I want to play a little piece that I think is important for context.


MARC STEINER So this is, I think, Speaker Pelosi speaking as she was pushing for the original bill that the House voted on.

HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI Today we had the opportunity to help the children. We are ensuring that children have food, clothing, sanitary items, shelter, and medical care. We are providing access to legal assistance and we are protecting families because families belong together. Our legislation is a vote against the cruel attitude toward children of this administration. This bill does not fund the administration’s failed mass detention policy. Instead, it funds effective, humane alternatives to detention that have a proven record of success. And it creates strong oversight by Congress so that we can protect children and ensure this crisis never occurs again.”

MARC STEINER So that, the original tweet came after this, and this was what she said when she was fighting for the bill in Congress, which we can talk about. And then, let me give you one more tweet and then we’ll dive into this for a moment, all right?


MARC STEINER This is a tweet from Ocasio-Cortez, the new Congresswoman from New York, when she tweeted, “Under no circumstances should the House vote for a McConnell-only bill w/ no negotiation with Democrats. Hell no. That’s an abdication of power we refuse to accept. They will keep hurting kids if we do.” So, talk a bit about this battle going on. I mean, Nancy pushed it, Nancy Pelosi pushed it and really looked as if she was going to go to war. And then, McConnell pushed back, because there’s no accountability apparently, in terms of the people who run these private prisons and what they’re going to be held accountable for, what’s happened to the kids. So talk a bit about your sense of analysis of this battle going on.

EDDIE CARMONA I mean, it’s obviously clear that there’s—Number one, let me just say this. I think the biggest thing that we have to look at— putting all politics aside, and it’s just as a human level, at a human being level— members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, need to be held accountable. We’re talking about children here. We’re talking about situations that are extremely devastating. In any other country, we’d call this a humanitarian crisis, what’s happening with kids at the border. And the fact that we’re having a conversation about making sure that these kids who are being placed in traumatic situations that are creating generational trauma, the fact that we’re talking about how to care for them in these deplorable situations, is ridiculous. I mean, so when it comes to just stripping everything down from, you know, a Democrat or Republican or even the fights amongst Democrats, we have to view this as a human issue.

This is a situation that we’ve never seen before in this country. And when we have seen it before, it’s been associated with some of the worst regimes in the history of the country and in the world. So I think one— we have to just recognize that for what it is. And then number two— the fact that, to get to your question Marc, the fact that we’re viewing we’re politicizing this again coming up to an election, which is what is happening amongst the Democrats, and I know the mob Dems in Congress are worried about losing their seats and being soft on enforcement and soft on crime—This is all part of that equation and the simple fact that now we’re putting kids at the center of this polarization. And the dynamic that’s occurring at the border with kids being put in cages and the generational trauma that’s occurring is just, it’s disgusting. And for moderate Dems and Republicans to be saying, we’re going to use this as an opportunity to beef up the border enforcement, to add more detention facilities, to continue an inhumane practice of locking up families coming from Latin America, from Central American countries, is just ridiculous and is disgusting. And it makes me ashamed that these are the people that are representing us.

MARC STEINER Let me get to the heart of what I think is part of this argument among Democrats especially. What’s happening with this bill that came through the House and then went to the Senate is that the moderate Democrats and others are arguing that look, we have to put the money to the border. These kids are living in filthy conditions, in horrendous conditions, if you read the reports that human rights lawyers and others who saw what was going on in Clint, Texas. And so, if we don’t vote yes, then kids get nothing. We just can’t leave them there. So how do you respond to that?

EDDIE CARMONA Where’s the accountability at? There’s no accountability in this bill that states that they have to direct it. I mean, some of the things that I read is that oh, they have to give a notification to lawmakers within 24 hours after a child dies? That’s the conversation that we’re having? Whether a child cannot be held in detention for no longer than 90 days? That’s three months. And those are the kinds of conversations we’re having as opposed to these children should not be put in cages and detention? Yes, we do need to address the situation that’s happening, and we need to address the disgusting situation that these kids are being put in, but I don’t see any accountability that states that that money has to go for those specific reasons, which is a problem in itself. Even if we’re not addressing the issue of having our kids and families being put in these situations, there’s still no mechanism that I’ve seen or that I’ve read in the bill that is going to make sure that that money is going for those purposes.

MARC STEINER So, you know, there was a quote in The New York Times that really just grabbed me, because I’ve been really following this closely and talking about the situation around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s comment about concentration camps that’s blown up. As a person, personally who grew up in a home with people with numbers on their arms, knowing what that means, it really hit home to me as well and tore me up a little bit in trying to figure out how to respond to that. But then, this quote really says something to us. This is in The New York Times from a man named Juan Martinez, who works for Pride Fitness Gym in Clint, Texas. And he said, “almost like a concentration camp. I mean, they’re not killing them, but they’re treating them like animals. They need basic hygiene.”


MARC STEINER So I’m curious of a couple of things from your perspective as a person who is in this every day, what should be our response? I mean, what should be your response? What should be the response of people who say that we can’t do this? We can’t allow this to tumble into anything that incarcerates people in this way. You know, do we surround the camps? I mean, what do you do?

EDDIE CARMONA Right. Well, one of the things that we did here in California last summer and in subsequent different gatherings since then, is we went to the Otay Mesa Detention Center as prophetic leaders and clergy that stood up, and we placed a label on CoreCivic’s site that said “concentration camp,” because what they’re doing is they’re treating human beings and our loved ones as if they’re cattle and if they’re animals. Part of what’s happening around, sort of, just the criminalization, what is really, really concerning to us is that you’re creating—Just like they did with the Native tribes here, but with the boarding schools, just like they did with children during Japanese Internment, just like they did in the history of this country, we’re doing it again and this administration doesn’t give a damn about the families coming across the border.

All they see it as is an opportunity to capitalize on, more profit making, and more money making off of the bodies of black and brown bodies. This situation, people in the United States, you need to stand up and do not let them normalize the situation of dead bodies coming across the river, of children being in cages, of children facing these crazy conditions inside these detention centers. And if this doesn’t move you to action, to not only get out and vote in 2020, but to contact your member of Congress, to hit the streets, go outside these detention centers, and mass mobilize, to stand up for what we don’t support in this country. What’s happening right now, these are not values that this country was founded on, and these are not the values that they’re based upon. I think, people need to stand up in any way shape or form possible and definitely get out to vote in 2020 because this, what’s happening right now, is unacceptable.

MARC STEINER Eddie Carmona, I appreciate you taking time with us today and the work you do with PICO California. And please stay in touch. We want to stay on top of this with you and continue to put the pressure on. Thank you so much for your work and joining us today.

EDDIE CARMONA Absolutely. Have a good one. Take care of yourself.

MARC STEINER Good to talk. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. We’ll stay on top of this one. No question. Take care.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.