This morning, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on Good Day New York with Rosanna Scotto and Lori Stokes to discuss New York's intent to file a multi-agency lawsuit against the Trump Administration on the grounds that the federal government is violating the Constitutional rights of thousands of immigrant children and their parents who have been separated at the border.
A rush transcript of the interview is below:
Rosanna Scotto: We have been talking about these migrant children. Thousands of children separated from their families and held in cages as President Trump's zero-tolerance policy takes effect right now. Some parents are being deported without their kids. The heart wrenching cries of those kids in facilities leave many wondering if this was the best way to handle the illegal immigration.
Lori Stokes: Here in New York, Governor Cuomo is promising to file a lawsuit against the federal government. He's on the phone from Albany. Governor, thanks for being with us this morning.
Governor Cuomo: Thanks for having me. How are you Rosanna? How are you Lori?
Lori Stokes: We are doing good. I just want to get clarification. I know you sent a letter to ICE so are we at the stage where if they don't comply with what you're asking for then you will file a lawsuit?
Governor Cuomo: No, we're going to file a lawsuit period. Look, Rosanna said in the setup, some are questioning if this was the best way to handle the immigration situation. I don't think there is any question but that this has been one of the really ugly stains in American history. I mean, this is, when we look back, we literally are just taking children from their parents at the border, thousands of them. Thousands of them. It's been done in such a brutal and chaotic way, we can't even connect the parent with the child. And this was all done, I believe, to motivate a political resolution. And I'm a big boy and I was in the federal government and I'm in state government. I know they use all sorts of tactics to get legislation passed. But this is basically taking children and holding them hostage as a negotiating tactic. what they did was, they changed the policy to what they call zero tolerance on April 7th. What did that mean? If you cross the border, you are arrested, 100%. When you arrest the parent the question became what do you do with the child. And that was not thought through. And now you have thousands of children, some of whom are in cages on the border. Some of whom are placed in social service agencies. We have 100 in New York. But the law says a parent and a child have legal rights even if they are not citizens they have legal rights. They have a right to due process and the courts have held again and again and again the fundamental concept of parental control care and custody of their child is paramount. And people at the border have that due process right and it's being violated so put all the political junk aside, you are taking children from their parents, it's traumatizing. You're putting them in facilities all across the country. Some under terrible circumstances. And this is all to seek a political resolution that you want. That's what this country is doing.
Rosanna Scotto: So Governor, you just said now you believe that we have a hundred children in our state right now because the number was 70 at some point. And we're hearing reports and I don't know if you know anything new about this, that some children were brought here to East Harlem in the middle of the night to a foster agency. Can you confirm or deny, not confirm or deny, just confirm whether this actually was migrant children from the border?
Governor Cuomo: The confirm or deny makes it sound like I did something wrong, Rosanna.
Rosanna Scotto: I know you didn't do anything. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to say it that way.
Governor Cuomo: We're contacting the agency now. This is all run by the federal government and they're moving the children around the country like chess pieces on a chess board. They had no plan on what to do with that.
Rosanna Scotto: But doesn't it seem unusual that they would be bringing children in the middle of the night to East Harlem?
Lori Stokes: They were primarily girls, right?
Governor Cuomo: Of course, of course. They have created a debacle. 11,000 children over the past few weeks that they don't know what to do with. They keep them in cages at the border and then there's TV pictures of kids in cages. And the American public has become outraged so then they have to send the children somewhere else. They're classifying them as unaccompanied alien children, what they call UAC. Unaccompanied alien children, which they're not because they came with a parent and they are finding social service agencies, basically foster care homes, to take these kids. And this has been a problem that has exploded over the past several weeks because of what they did when they made that "zero tolerance," which sounds nice and tough. And said everybody immediately gets arrested, it triggered the question of what do you do with the children? The past policy was we're going to detain you, with your family.
Rosanna Scotto: Was that under the Clinton administration?
Governor Cuomo: That was under Clinton, that was under Obama.
Rosanna Scotto: So let me ask you something. And I know this sounds really simplistic, but this is going on right now, how do we stop it? Why isn't there somebody at the border telling these families, don't do it? They're separating the kids from—
Lori Stokes: Who are trying to come illegally into the country?
Rosanna Scotto: Yeah. Don't do it. Why aren't they stopping the families before they cross the border?
Governor Cuomo: Rosanna, I believe that's what they thought would happen. I believe the zero tolerance policy was a deterrent in their mind. If we say as soon as you come you're going to be arrested and we're going to take your kids from you, nobody else will show up. Except they kept coming
Rosanna Scotto: But why does this keep going on?
Governor Cuomo: Because many of them are asylum seekers and they're coming from Guatemala, they're coming from Honduras, they're coming from places where there's gang violence and poverty, and they come out of desperation because the situation they're in is so bad. Even if you say I'm going to arrest you, they still come. And look let's be honest. Your people, Rosanna, my people, they all came from desperate situations. Why would you get on a boat and go to a country where you didn't know anyone and you couldn't speak the language? It's because you were desperate.
Rosanna Scotto: And by the way they were not so nice at Ellis Island.
Governor Cuomo: And they were not so nice at Ellis Island. But they didn't take your kids.
Lori Stokes: But your fortunate you have at least that story to tell, Governor, as well, of wanting to get on a ship to come over to the United States.
Governor Cuomo: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.
Lori Stokes: Right. On the flip side though—
Governor Cuomo: But, so a lot of people, a lot of people came here in desperate circumstances, and many in forced circumstances, so I think what they were hoping to say was if you come we're going to arrest you and take your kids and that would be a deterrent, and it's turned out not to be a deterrent, and now you have this chaotic, anti-American, anti-humane situation with thousands of kids scattered throughout the country. They're deporting, they're deporting parents and they can't find the child. So they're deporting parents, and the child is in some facility somewhere in the country.
Lori Stokes: Governor, on the other side, if we were to have someone counter what you're saying. The ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan had said what you were talking about right now, said you are quote, in his words, grandstanding and inaccurate, and what you're saying is an insult to ICE sworn law enforcement officers. You're not criticizing the officers, are you?
Governor Cuomo: He's full of beans. ICE knows well, in ICE's own directives, they talk about the primacy of parental control. This is a well-established fact. ICE has been involved in lawsuits and settlements on this point. The Flores settlement. It is well established that the parents retain control of the kids. What ICE is saying is this, Jeff Sessions the Attorney General changed the policy and Sessions said we arrest everyone. When that policy change was made and now ICE is going to arrest everyone, upon arrest Lori, they have an operational legal problem where they have to separate the child from the parent if you arrest the parent. So ICE says we're just following the law. Well you're following the law after an arbitrary and capricious policy change. So that's not really following the law, you're following the law because Sessions in his own digression changed the policy to say arrest the parent. And now when you arrest the parent and put them in jail, you have to figure out what to do with the kid. But for ICE to say, we are blameless. We are just the functionary. The Attorney General told us what to do and we must do it. ICE was formed after 9/11. We know this as New Yorkers better than anyone. It was the new terrorism threat that we were all aware of. They were not supposed to be a family separation unit. Placing kids in social service facilities in the middle of the night so nobody sees them do it. I wanted to send mental health treatment to the children who are in these facilities.
Lori Stokes: Are you going to be doing that Governor?
Governor Cuomo: The federal government tells me no, you have to apply for special permission. It's going to take two weeks. I mean can you imagine the trauma of a child being pulled from their parent, put in a van, driven somewhere in the country that they don't even know where they are?
Lori Stokes: A lot of these places that they're at, they seem like they're very well run. Some of them are run by the Catholic Charities and I would think that they would have those kind of services in places already, don't you think?
Governor Cuomo: It depends. Some are in kennels where you wouldn't put your poodle, Rosanna, right? And some are in social services facilities that do have services. But even if they do, you have a six-year-old, you have a seven-year-old, they don't speak the language. They're with their mother and father and then they're taken away and put in a van and driven away. I mean, this could be a psychological trauma for a lifetime.
Rosanna Scotto: Yeah absolutely.
Governor Cuomo: It's not one kid, ten kids—11,000 children. I mean, what are we doing. Forget the politics. You know, the politics is so ugly in the country and you can't believe anything you hear and you can't believe anything you read. Forget the politics. There is humanity. There's still a sense of decency. Who wants to treat people like this? We're better than this. This is not who we are. And it is that simple.
Rosanna Scotto: So when's your timeframe for filing a lawsuit?
Governor Cuomo: We want to get it done within two weeks.
Rosanna Scotto: Governor we appreciate you coming on Good Day New York and we're sorry for the technical problems because we were supposed to see you, as well as hear you, but maybe next time.
Governor Cuomo: Let me put it this way, I'm better when you only hear me, Rosanna.
Rosanna Scotto: Stop. We always like looking at and hearing from you at the same time.
Lori Stokes: Thank you so much, Governor, we appreciate your time.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you, Lori. Thank you, Rosanna.