MSNBC's Heilemann Compares Migrant Detention Facilities to Concentration Camps

August 22nd, 2019 8:22 PM

Not surprisingly, the far-left panel on Wednesday’s Deadline: White House didn't react favorably to the Trump administration’s proposal to detain migrant families seeking asylum for longer than 20 days. Fill-in host John Heilemann suggested that President Trump wants to hold migrant children and their families “in detention centers indefinitely,” an idea which he argued “fit the textbook definition of what a concentration camp is.”

The segment began with Heilemann reading from an article from correspondent Julia Ainsley, who explained that “the new rule…may be in defiance of a 2015 federal court ruling known as the Flores agreement that limited the time families could be detained to 20 days.” After a brief conversation with Ainsley, Heilemann brought in his panel to tee off about it, which will not go into effect for 60 days and will likely face a court challenge.



NPR’s Maria Hinojosa brought up how “family detention” started under President George W. Bush in 2005 in Hutto, Texas. Hinojosa explained that “when people saw the little baby prison garb, you know, for toddlers, people freaked out…and it was shut down.” It seemed like Hinojosa believed that “freaking out” about the “family detention” policy of the Trump administration will yield the same result.

While there was unanimity in their hatred for Trump, Heilemann had the most hyperbolic analysis. According to Heilemann, “when you start talking about permanent detention facilities for any extant country, it’s like in the textbook definition of what a concentration camp is: permanent detention.”

For the record, President Trump has no intention of detaining all minorities in the United States; only asylum seekers waiting to hear back from a judge whether or not their asylum claim is valid. After saying “we all now accept he’s a racist,” Heilemann asked former Republican-turned-lefty David Jolly “does he really want to be known as the concentration camp President?”

As the segment came to a close, Hinojosa highlighted a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border; where she said she “saw so many babies…toddlers…(and) four-year-olds” in Juarez waiting “to ask for asylum to come into the United States.” Hinojosa also described the idea that detaining migrant families “indefinitely” would serve as a deterrent as “BS.”

While Hinojosa and others on the pro-open borders left make it sound as though all seeking asylum is a child under five, the facts tell a slightly different story. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 72 percent of unaccompanied alien children were between the ages of 15 and 17 in fiscal year 2018 while just 15 percent were under the age of five. The liberal media seem all too content to ignore these facts in order to advance their narrative of President Trump as a purveyor of “concentration camps” and child abuse.

A transcript of the relevant portion of Wednesday’s Deadline: White House is below. Click “expand” to read more.

MSNBC's Deadline: White House


04:25 p.m. Eastern

JOHN HEILEMANN: So, the President of the United States has the children on his mind. Today, we learned what he would like to do with those children when they arrive in this country seeking asylum: he wants to hold them and their families in detention centers indefinitely. That means potentially forever. NBC News reporting the administration’s proposal of a new rule, which would enable them to “hold migrant families in detention for the duration of their immigration proceedings, with no limit on the time they can be detained. The new rule may be in defiance of a 2015 federal court ruling known as the Flores agreement that limited the time families could be detained to 20 days.” Joining us now with her reporting on this incredibly urgent topic, NBC News Correspondent Julia Ainsley. Julia, great to see you. Tell us what this means both in principle and in practice.

JULIA AINSLEY: Yeah, so, in principle, this means that they can now hold families, these are parents and children who cross the border together indefinitely; until they have their court case played out and they either get asylum and they can stay in the United States or they’re issued a deportation order by a judge and they have to leave. That’s what it means in practice. In reality though, this isn’t going to affect everyone because of two huge restrictions. One is legally. Any administration official you talk to right now says yes, we’re saying this will go into effect in 60 days but we fully expect to be sued. They expect the injunctions. They want that court battle. What they want is to get this away from the judge who decided in 2015 that you couldn’t hold children for longer than 20 days, even if they’re with their parents. And then you get to space. Right now, they don’t have plans to expand ICE detention beds, they need Congress to agree to that, and so they are very limited. They have about 3,000 beds they can use for families and over 400,000 family members have crossed the border already this year. And so without those plans to expand, they say they’ve…think that this will only apply to about five to ten percent of families who cross the border but they think that just that alone will get out the message and…and keep families from coming here.

HEILEMANN: So Julia, I…I think you answered implicitly though, the question of like how the administration wants to get around Flores, the way they want to get around the Flores decision is basically they want to go forum shopping and find a friendlier judge who will invalidate Flores, right? Is that what you’re saying?

AINSLEY: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, the way they say they’re getting around this, they think that they have justification to do this and it could stand up in a court is that under the Flores agreement, the judge initially said that a child could not be held for a long period of time in a facility that was not licensed by the state. And no state has ever licensed a family detention center for…for immigrants. And so, what they’ve done instead is said, well no, since the states won’t do it, ICE will do it. ICE will license these facilities. That, of course, seems like a…a wide-open door for anyone to come in and challenge and say that’s not what this judge said and you’re in violation. But you’re right, they want to get this out of the Ninth Circuit. They want to kick this up and they’ve had mixed success with policies in the past. You can see how the Supreme Court has said that the administration can go forward for the time being on some construction of new border wall.


AINSLEY: They have had some wins and…and kind of…I hate to use this but throwing things against the wall to see what works. Sometimes, they can get small wins. But I think that this one will at least be a long time off, if it does finally prevail for them in court.

HEILEMANN: Right. So Maria, let me ask you a couple questions here. The first is just a practical thing. I want to get to…I’m going to get to what I…what this sounds like to me in a second and…


HEILEMANN: …that will be where we get to get a little bit emotional here but just on the practical matter, we have seen horrific photographs and footage from these facilities over the course of the last months, weeks, now going on years, where we look at them and say my God, like, you know, these are overcrowded facilities, people are, are treated…the people are contained, are detained in a way that is inhumane. Even if this is going to get challenged in court, even if it only affects a small percentage of potential…of migrants, you’re still talking about increasing…placing increasing pressure on a system that’s already buckling under the weight that’s been placed on it already. Is this not going to be like an immediate invitation to turning a humanitarian crisis up a couple notches on the crisis meter in terms of just conditions on the ground?

HINOJOSA: And isn’t that exactly what they want? I mean, that’s what the horror of this is all about. Look, I…I need to remind people that we’re talking about people who have absolutely no due process.


HINOJOSA: So people need to understand, because we think that like when you’re taken in the United States, when you’re taken into custody, you’re read your Miranda rights, you know who’s…why you’re being taken in, why you’re being arrested, how long you’re going to be held. What…due process. You get access to a lawyer, et cetera.


HINOJOSA: There’s none of that. So what we’re talking about, so I want…I need people to understand, you are being held now indefinitely, no access guaranteed to a phone call, no access to a lawyer, and we need to wrap our heads around that. And also, this thing that I bring up, which people have a real problem with but I think it’s essential that we talk about where these ideas were born. This family detention did not start under Donald Trump. Okay? It started actually under George W. Bush…


HINOJOSA: …around the year 2005 in Hutto in Texas. There was…when people saw the little baby prison garb, you know, for toddlers, people freaked out. And…and it was shut down, Hutto was shut down. This actually comes back with Jeh Johnson…


HINOJOSA: …from the Obama administration and Jeh Johnson, who I interviewed, says that he considered this a humanitarian…a humanitarian turn. Look where we are ending up now. It is this administration that is going to say hey, you guys led to this, which is why, hello Joe Biden…


HINOJOSA: ….Hello…


HINOJOSA: …you need to assume responsibility and all of us do, for the fact this has been created under our watch.

HEILEMANN: Donna, I want to ask you this, okay, so people…this…things move so fast that we forget that not that long ago, I believe that it was one of the…one of the Congresswoman who are part of the squad, possibly AOC, who got in, got…created some controversy and certainly raised the hackles of people in the Trump administration when she said these are concentration camps. Right? And people then were looking back at what the actual dictionary definition of a concentration camp is and, you know, there are some arguments about that. When you start talking about permanent detention facilities for minorities in a…in any extant country, it’s like in the textbook definition of what a concentration camp is: permanent detention. That’s what that is…at least one important part of what a concentration camp is. Is this not…(A), is that not right, am I…or am I nuts? And (B), is that really, I mean, as, as, as much cruelty as we see on the…behalf of this administration, is that really a charge that this administration wants to give fuel to? Because it’s going to become increasingly hard to not call that what it is.

DONNA EDWARDS: Well, and I…I think that the…I think the President and the administration, I think the reason they’re proceeding with this particular part of the policy is because they want the fight. They’re inviting the fight. They’re inviting the fight in the court and they’re inviting the…the fight in the court of public opinion. And I think for Democrats, the danger here is by not calling it what it is, then we kind of buy in to…into the system. And that is simply not acceptable. And I do think that all of us have to own this; even as we put the real blame on the Trump administration.

HEILEMANN: David Jolly, Donald Trump really wants the concentration camp fight? You know, we know, we know that he is…from people who are close to him that he hates the fact that he’s been labeled a racist. Which we all…

JOLLY: Sure.

HEILEMANN: …now accept.

JOLLY: Sure.

HEILEMANN: He’s a racist, right? But he’s really…he’s not happy about the fact that he’s being known as the racist President. Does he really want to be known as the concentration camp President?

DAVID JOLLY: Well, he wants to be the hard-line immigration President and what’s going to happen is the nation’s going to go down this rabbit hole of a circular argument where Republicans say look, you don’t want to separate families so we’re going to keep them united by keeping them indefinitely detained together as a family unit, and to do that, we have got to change the 20-day rule under Flores. As a nation, we need to step back and say what does this say about us and what does this say about us on the world stage? Because you could argue we...we are in the midst of a hemispheric migration crisis and how we respond to that defines who we are as a nation. Look, we are either receptive to these families that are seeking safety and opportunity…


JOLLY: …or we…we take the Donald Trump/Jeff Sessions approach, where cruelty is the deterrent, we shut down the border and we indefinitely detain. It’s not necessary to indefinitely detain families to provide proper adjudication to their claims; whether or not they’re valid or not.


JOLLY: We can’t do that at as a nation.

HINOJOSA: …the thing about deterrents…I’m sorry, John…


HINOJOSA: …but here’s the thing. This whole idea and by the way, Jeh Johnson said this too, that this is a deterrent. I was just on the border when I was in El Paso during, you know, the aftermath of the massacre, the shooting, I crossed into Juarez and I saw what now has become normal; which is a line of people, about 50 people, waiting on the Mexican side to ask for asylum to come into the United States. And I saw so many babies. I saw like a month-old baby, I saw toddlers, I saw four-year-olds and I very calmly went up to the people and I said, you know, hey, what’s going on? They’re asking for asylum. They’re desperate. Right? And I said do you have any idea what’s going on on the other side with children? No. I said do you…have you heard any stories about children being taken away from people on the other…No, no. So, this notion that people who are seeking refuge are like checking their iPhones to see what policy Donald Trump has said…

HEILEMANN: Ridiculous.

HINOJOSA: …and where it ends up in the court and this is going to deter them, I’m sorry, it’s a bunch of BS. It is not true. And none of them have taken the effort to go down to the border and look these people in the eye and do the humanitarian thing, which is you’re not escaping to come get a job, you’re escaping because you’re terrified.

HEILEMANN: We got to…we got to get to a break and I could go on all day about this. All I will say is Democrats out there who are running for President in 2020, if you cannot make a winning political issue out of the way this administration has handled this issue on the border, you are the most politically inept party and set of candidates in the history of the world.