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Border Patrol Union Official Discusses Family Separation Policy


We are a few weeks into the new Trump administration policy of zero tolerance for illegal border crossings. In that time frame, more than 2,000 migrant children have been separated from their families. And we wondered how that policy is playing out for those on the front line, those in the Border Patrol? So we invited Brandon Judd to the studio.

He is a 20-year veteran of the Border Patrol and president of a union that represents some 15,000 border patrol agents.

BRANDON JUDD: What we're doing is we're prosecuting these individuals. And we do separate them for a very, very short amount of time. It's not this separation that people are thinking weeks, months, even years. That's just not...

KELLY: To be clear, this is when people just cross the border, Border Patrol...

JUDD: Correct.

KELLY: ...You're talking about a period of a few hours.

JUDD: Correct.

KELLY: They might then go into the custody of other federal agencies, which are longer-term detention.

JUDD: Yes, if they go into the custody of other federal agencies, there could be a separation that's a little bit longer, but that percentage is small because we just don't have the facilities to hold very many people. So the zero tolerance, when people hear the zero tolerance, you would think that we're prosecuting 100 percent of the people that are crossing the border.

And that's not true. In fact, we're prosecuting between 10 and 20 percent of the people that cross border. So technically...

KELLY: But hang on, that's the whole point of the zero-tolerance crackdown is that everybody crossing the border illegally is supposed to be getting prosecuted. You're saying that's not happening?

JUDD: That's not even close to happening. With that small number of prosecutions, you're hoping to drive the numbers back down. And if you drive the numbers back down, then we'll have the resources to prosecute 100 percent.

KELLY: But help me square two facts. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have said U.S. policy going forward is anyone who crosses the border illegally will be prosecuted. You're telling me that's not happening, that's a tiny fraction that's actually being prosecuted.

JUDD: It is a tiny fraction. They're hoping...

KELLY: Why? What's...

JUDD: We just don't have the resources. Just in one station, one station alone, we're arresting about 200 people that cross the border illegally per day. We've got over 150 stations in the United States. We just don't have the resources.

KELLY: Let me ask you about the direct consequence of this Trump administration policy, which is families being separated at the border. Have you heard from any members who are uncomfortable with that policy?

JUDD: No, because again, the Border Patrol agents, we're not separating families. We've been called the Gestapo. We've been called Nazis. I mean, we've been called everything in the media. The fact of the matter is as Border Patrol agents, we are not separating families, except for a few hours for them to go see a magistrate or in extreme cases.

KELLY: The federal government statistics that are out are something like 2,000 children are being held separate from their parents. It is happening.

JUDD: And that could happen with ICE or HHS, but that's not happening in the Border Patrol's hands. When we turn them over...

KELLY: But Border Patrol isn't operating in a vacuum. They know what the situation is at the border.

JUDD: Well, of course we do. But again, we're going to look back at what we've always done. Our agents are looking at this and they're saying, why is there this huge outcry when we did the exact same thing in 2013?

KELLY: That's what you're hearing from your agents...

JUDD: Oh, absolutely.

KELLY: ...They don't understand the outcry that's coming out of lawmakers, evangelical Christian groups, it's Catholic groups, it's every living former first lady, it's members of both parties.

JUDD: What our agents are saying is where was the outcry in 2014?

KELLY: But in 2014, the administration, the then Obama administration, was not separating families. It was not sending children to separate shelters, which is what's happening today.

JUDD: From the Border Patrol's perspective, there is no difference what happened in 2014 to 2018. I can't speak to ICE. The Border Patrol, we do not separate them. What happens when they go to ICE, I can't speak to that.

KELLY: But are you saying nothing has changed for the Border Patrol...

JUDD: Under the...

KELLY: ...Today in June 2018 from where we were a year ago?

JUDD: The only thing that's changed is that we're prosecuting more people. If we would have prosecuted you a year ago, we would've separated you from your children the same way we would do it today. The only thing that's different today from 2014 is the number of people that we're prosecuting.

KELLY: Can I ask you just the central question at the heart of this?

JUDD: Certainly.

KELLY: It's the basic one. Is this cruel?

JUDD: If they were being separated for - if it was the way the media was portraying it, yes.

KELLY: If it's the way it is as you see it, is it cruel to separate children from their parents?

JUDD: The way I see it, we're not, we're not. For a couple hours for one...

KELLY: Again, I just have to keep injecting there's 2,000 kids who are being kept separately from their parents, sometimes in different states. That's the federal government's statistics.

JUDD: OK. I can't speak to what ICE does. The Border Patrol agents are not separating families from children. When we do, it's for a couple hours. What happens with ICE after that, I don't know.

KELLY: Or with the Office of Refugee Resettlement or other federal bureaucracies.

JUDD: From all of those - but they have to go to ICE first. And what happens from there, I don't see it.

KELLY: That was Brandon Judd. He is president of the National Border Patrol Council. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.