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Arkansas' Gov. Hutchinson On Why He Opposes Migrant Children In His State


We'd like to talk a bit more about how this issue is playing out on the state level. On Thursday, the Department of Defense accepted a request to house 20,000 migrant children on military bases. The Department of Defense immediately set out to evaluate bases around the country. Arkansas has two sites under consideration. We wanted to hear more about this, so we've called Governor Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas. He's with us now. Governor, thanks so much for speaking to us.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Good to be with you today.

MARTIN: Now, you've come out against housing migrant children separated from their families. What informs your point of view about this?

HUTCHINSON: It's just the sense of compassion of America. You look at this, and these are not serious felonies. They are misdemeanor offenses. You're pulling the children away from the parents. That's just not acceptable in America, and the public does not have the tolerance for that. We're a compassionate nation. And so that's simply a humanitarian response - that while we need to secure and protect our border, we don't need to be separating our families for this purpose. We need to keep them together, and we need to process them quickly. That doesn't take away from more stringent border policy, but let's don't separate the families.

MARTIN: Is part of the reasoning in your area the history of the area? One of the sites being evaluated in Arkansas is miles from a former Japanese-American internment camp, and that was one of those policies that a lot of people agreed with at the time but in hindsight is viewed as a moral stain on this country's history. And I wonder if that history is part of your thought about this.

HUTCHINSON: First of all, the question is, do you separate families? The answer is no. And then, secondly, if you're going to keep families together as they're being processed and have to detain them, then where are you going to place those?

And they're considering two sites in Arkansas. And the site that you're referencing is near Kelso, Ark. in the southeast. And it is proximally close to where the old Japanese internment camp was - or detention camp. And, absolutely, that is not a suitable location, both in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of what it would look like and the connection to that terrible time in our history where citizens were improperly detained.

And there's another site that's under consideration, which is Little Rock Air Force Base. And that's one you just have to have more information.

MARTIN: And one of the things we're trying to figure out is why are these facilities necessary after the president's executive order that was apparently meant to end family separations? Do you understand it? I mean, is the idea that whole families would be kept in detention at these facilities? Do you understand it?

MARTIN: Well, first of all, it stems from the desire to actually prosecute those that illegally enter our country. And so first time across illegally, it's a misdemeanor offense. If you come across multiple times without permission, then that's a felony. If you prosecute those, generally, the families are separated during the time you're prosecuting them. We've made a policy decision - the president has - that you don't want to separate those families. But we still have a prosecutable offense, so how are you going to accomplish that?

And that's where it gets very, very complex because if you're going to be prosecuting one member of the family for illegal entry but not the children, if you keep them together, then you've got - first of all, HHS is responsible for the children, and the Department of Justice or Homeland Security's responsible for the adults. But you can house them together. And so that keeps the need there for these immigrant families in which they've illegally crossed the country - they have to have some place to be detained and held until their case is processed.

MARTIN: So let me understand it - you are willing to have facilities that will house children in detention as long as they're with their parents. Is that correct?

HUTCHINSON: That's open to discussion because we have to have more details. I've already said that the Kelso site is not one that would be acceptable. But if you look at other military installations, let's get the information first. And the administration does not even have that at this time because it's a complex game plan as to how this can be carried out. But, if you keep the families together, that's the first criteria.

Then, secondly, let's find out, how is this going to be carried out? What is the care? So those are things this administration has got to address, and if the American public cannot accept that, then you just need to do away with a no-tolerance policy and recognize the fact that catch-and-release is going to continue.

MARTIN: Earlier this week, President Trump said Republicans should, quote-unquote, "stop wasting their time" trying to pass an immigration bill until after the midterms. Do you agree with that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's never a waste of time to try to bring parties together to look for a solution. But the president was recognizing how difficult this is in election year. But let's keep working for a solution. Congress has to address this because this really illustrates the challenge. You've got a president who's trying to get to a good solution where we're not simply having porous borders. And Congress is the one that has to really, one, devote money to build a more secure border, put the administrative law judges there. They're needed to process these cases. And then to look for a solution long term so that we can address those that are here - those children that we all are concerned about - we need to address that as the president has tried to do in the past.

MARTIN: So this is a political question, but, you know, politics is the means by which government happens. This week, the longtime columnist George Will made a case in The Washington Post for voting against the Republican Party in the midterms. He said that Republicans have abdicated their constitutional responsibility as well as their moral authority. He's not the only one. Steve Schmidt, who's also a significant player - I mean, he ran John McCain's presidential campaign - has said essentially the same thing.

I presume you disagree. I mean, how do you respond to that? These are not just kind of fringe players. These are people who've been significant conservative voices and have played significant roles. What do you say to that?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I presume that the most recent concern is the handling of this crisis along the border. Well, disagree with that policy and try to move it and express yourselves. It makes a difference because the president changed the policy last week. But to say you ought to change the course of America in terms of our courts and deregulation and lower taxes makes no sense to me whatsoever.

MARTIN: That's the governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson. Governor, thank you so much for speaking to us.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "NATURAL CAUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.