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News Brief: Republicans Delay Immigration Vote, Turkey Election Preview


Republican lawmakers in the House have punted on immigration yet again.


Yeah. A so-called consensus bill was supposed to be held for a vote today. It was called a consensus even though it was a compromise among Republican factions not with Democrats, we should note. This bill sought to carve out a path to citizenship for the so-called DREAMers brought here as children. It would also have provided billions of dollars for a border wall and would have helped to keep migrant families together in detention. But last night, House leaders realized that this was not going to get enough support to pass, so they pushed the vote to next week.

GREENE: All right, let's talk about that with NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK. So this bill on hold couldn't get enough Republican support let alone any Democratic support. So what is the plan that the White House and Republicans have to try and, I guess, bring this up again next week?

HORSLEY: Well, David, if there's a plan, it's not evident to me.


HORSLEY: House Republicans are just still tied up in knots when it comes to immigration. This vote was originally supposed to happen yesterday. It was pushed back to today. And then when it was clear that they still didn't have enough votes to pass it, it was punted until next week. The president has been on Twitter blaming Democrats for their lack of support. But, you know, House Democrats are not inclined to come to the rescue for a problem they see as wholly manufactured by the president.

GREENE: Well, of course this larger debate on immigration comes amid the backdrop of the president's new executive order ending the separation of families crossing illegally. And so much concern we've heard, Scott, about when/if these kids who are already separated are ever going to be reunited with their families. Some aid workers, lawyers saying that they're only able to track down relatives for a very small fraction of the kids. Is that situation improving at all?

HORSLEY: Well, there's lots of confusion on the ground, including for the families who are continuing to arrive at the border. Remember, the administration adopted this family separation policy because the president wanted to prosecute all immigrants who crossed the border illegally. And there is a legal settlement that says young people can only be detained for 20 days. Now, the president's executive order reversing family separation this week didn't change either of those other things. So something's going to have to give.

Yesterday, the Justice Department formally asked the courts to change that settlement so perhaps young people could be held more than 20 days. But there's no guarantee that's going to happen. The other remedy would be for Congress to act. And as we've seen, that may not happen...

GREENE: It's not happening so far.

We also learned yesterday that the Department of Health and Human Services is asking the Pentagon to look at whether it would be able to house up to 20,000 children. And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says it's possible.


JAMES MATTIS: We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes. We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.

GREENE: Now, the idea of optics came up through this whole conversation in recent days. Scott, what would be the optics of housing children on military bases?

HORSLEY: Well, this request was to house unaccompanied minors. Of course, the challenge now is going to be finding a place to house families who come together and will be kept together. The Pentagon has housed unaccompanied minors in the past. This will be a new challenge for them.

GREENE: Scott, can I just ask you about first lady Melania Trump, who's been talked about a lot because of something she was wearing when she was visiting detained immigrant kids in Texas?

HORSLEY: That's right. She toured a border shelter yesterday in a camera-ready show of compassion. But she was wearing a jacket that said - I really don't care. Do you? - so something of a mixed message from the first lady here. The president says she was trolling the news media. Melania Trump was certainly trolling someone.

GREENE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Scott, we appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

GREENE: All right, we're going to stay on the topic of immigration now. This saga of children separated from their parents on the southern border has really been dominating headlines all week, as we know.

MARTIN: Right. And what really drove this home in a different way was this audio recording from the investigative newsroom ProPublica. It made people feel this crisis in a totally different way. We heard these kids crying, repeatedly calling out for their mothers and fathers who were shipped to different detention centers. One of the voices on that recording is that of this 6-year-old girl named Allison Jimena Valencia Madrid.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Sobbing, speaking Spanish).



UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Sobbing, speaking Spanish).

JIMENA: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: So that last voice is Jimena's. And in that clip, she's asking a consular worker to call her aunt so she can get picked up from the detention center. She says, I have her number memorized. And then she's reciting it there.

GREENE: And that phone number has really been her lifeline to her family in the United States. Jimena's aunt lives in Houston. And ProPublica senior reporter Ginger Thompson dialed that number. And we're going to learn what happened next. Ginger's with us.

Hi there, Ginger.


GREENE: I'm good. Thank you.

So you called Jimena's aunt. And what did she tell you?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, immediately I said, you know, I've heard your daughter - or niece is in detention. And she said yes, that's right. My niece is in detention. And I said I've heard that she may have called you. And she said she did. And it was devastating to hear her crying and screaming and saying please, Tia - aunt - please come get me because I'm here, and I'm alone.

GREENE: All right. I want to play a little bit from a video that you took of your meeting with the aunt because you did actually meet her as well. Let's listen here.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

GREENE: So what exactly is she describing here?

THOMPSON: So I did. I visited the aunt yesterday. And she told me that, you know, the consular official, when she called, remarked at how smart and how lucky Jimena was that she remembered this phone number because essentially what happens with these children under zero-tolerance is when they're physically separated from their parents, they're also bureaucratically separated from them. And so when child advocates and consular officials and shelter workers encounter these children for the first time, they rely on the children to tell them whether they've come with a parent. They rely on the children to tell them where their parents are. And so...

GREENE: These kids are so young. I mean, they're...


GREENE: ...Relying on these kids to know this information.

THOMPSON: Exactly.

GREENE: It's just extraordinary to think about.

THOMPSON: Exactly. When a child is unable to count to 10, how is that child going to remember a number?

GREENE: You were able to speak with her mother as well. Is that right? Where is she? Is she facing deportation? Any idea when she might see her daughter again?

THOMPSON: There's no idea when she'll see her daughter again. She was told that she would be reunited with her daughter, but there's been no plan for exactly how these reunifications are going to happen. And this bureaucratic sort of mix-up that has been revealed by this recording make their reunification even more uncertain.

GREENE: Ginger Thompson is a senior reporter for ProPublica.

Thanks a lot. We appreciate it, Ginger.

THOMPSON: You're welcome.


GREENE: All right. So the winner of this weekend's presidential election in Turkey will have more powers than most previous Turkish presidents.

MARTIN: Right. That's because last year voters narrowly changed the constitution there to give the next president powers now granted to the prime minister. The Parliament's traditional role as a check on the presidency is also going to be limited. And that will suit the current president just fine. He is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and he is up for re-election. He has been jailing his enemies and muffling the media.

GREENE: And let's turn now to NPR's Peter Kenyon at his post in Istanbul.

Hi, Peter.


GREENE: So President Erdogan has won - what? - every election for the past 16 years. Is anything going to change this Sunday?

KENYON: Well, there's no question Erdogan is still Turkey's dominant politician. Now, the polls here are not always the most reliable, but he does appear to be leading again. If he wins, as you mentioned, he'll be even stronger. He's going to have these new executive powers, including the ability to rule by decree in some cases. Erdogan says it's a new era for Turkey. His opponents are saying it's another step toward one-man rule.

GREENE: Well, I mean, if it is going towards one-man rule - he is so powerful; he's such a dominant force; he controls so much - does this election mean anything? Does it offer real options for voters?

KENYON: There are real options. But critics say, is it a really level playing field? They're not so sure. Much of Turkish media is pro-government. The opposition says it's getting a lot less coverage, especially TV airtime, than Erdogan and his ruling party. But there are two strong challengers. The secular party has fielded a younger man Muharrem Ince. He's a lawmaker, former physics teacher. He seems to be connecting with voters. And there's a woman in the race Meral Aksener, a nationalist who split with her party when it lined up with Erdogan. She's running a strong third if the polls are right. These elections were, however, moved up by more than a year. So the opposition hasn't had so much time to organize. We'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MUEZZIN: (Singing unintelligibly).

GREENE: We're hearing the famous call to prayer in Istanbul behind you? Is that...

KENYON: (Laughter) We are. Midday...

GREENE: That's lovely.

KENYON: ...Prayer is here.

GREENE: Yeah. Well, are voters worried about Erdogan becoming more and more autocratic, Peter?

KENYON: They are. Of course, he has his supporters who say, look - don't worry about that. We've got a lot of enemies. We need a tough person at the helm. Others are raising questions such as - well, if Erdogan wins another term, he'll be in power for 20 years, is that compatible with democracy? I mean, they argue the judiciary is going to be weaker, the Parliament. There's not going to be the checks and balances. There is the possibility, though, that he could face a Parliament now led by the opposition, which would be a first.

GREENE: All right, NPR's Peter Kenyon describing to us the upcoming election. President Erdogan expected to win, a dominant force in that country.

Peter, thanks a lot.

KENYON: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIPHE'S "ORBIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.