The plight of children trekking to the United States from Central America feels personal to a top Democrat who recently visited a migrant shelter in the Miami area.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), spoke to Fusion’s Jorge Ramos about her first-hand experience.
Wasserman Schultz has three children, including a 15-year-old son, and felt sympathy for the young men she met at the shelter on Tuesday morning.
“I could have been in my son’s high school classroom with a room full of his friends,” she told Ramos. “To me, as a mother of a boy that age, it was such a mixture of heartbreak and joy, because you can clearly see that these boys are safe, they are in a classroom, they are learning…. But what they went through to get there, I just couldn’t push that horror out of my mind.”
More than 3,000 young migrants apprehended on the Southwest border have been transferred to facilities in Florida in the past year, according to reports.
Ramos asked Wasserman Schultz whether moving the kids to Florida, and Miami in particular, was the right move.
“Is this the best way to handle this crisis, to send these 100 kids all the way from the border to Miami? he asked. “What are they doing in Miami?”
“What they’re doing in Miami, is, they’re safe,” she said. “They’re in a residential facility that’s like a home. They have a warm bed. They aren’t imprisoned. And they’re not being treated brutally, like a prison environment would treat them. And that’s what we do in the United States. We treat people humanely.”
From October 2013 through July, nearly 63,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught trying to enter the U.S. without authorization. Responding to the humanitarian crisis, the federal government has juggled resources to provide shelter, food and medical care for children.
Congress scrambled to pass bills to deal with the crisis before their five-week August recess began earlier this month, but the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House never came close to a compromise. In the absence of congressional action, President Obama is considering a series of executive actions to address the crisis.
Ramos asked Wasserman Schultz whether Obama should act now or refrain from a big policy move until after the midterm elections this November. Some Democrats have expressed worry that aggressive action from the White House could imperil members of their party in close races.
Wasserman Schultz evaded the question, saying, “This isn’t about politics at all.” She blamed the GOP for blocking immigration legislation in Congress.
“The Republicans have not only played politics with this for too long, but I think deeply embedded in too many of the Republicans in the House of Representatives is a thread of bigotry that is appalling.”
The Florida congresswoman touched on a number of topics, including medical marijuana in her state, the conflict in Gaza, perceived tension between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the protests in Ferguson, Mo.
Florida voters will have the chance to legalize medical marijuana through a ballot initiative later this year. Wasserman Schultz told Ramos that she hasn’t come out against the initiative, but that she has “real discomfort” about laws permitting medical marijuana.
“As a mother, that’s the approach I take,” she said. “If it passes, then what I want to see is that we have tight enough regulation to make sure that it is used for people who truly need it, and not abused.”
Ramos also asked Wasserman Schultz whether alcohol was more dangerous than marijuana. Southern Wine and Spirits, the largest liquor distributor in the U.S., was a top campaign contributor to Wasserman Schultz in 2012, giving $25,000 to her campaign for reelection, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Florida congressman didn’t answer the question directly, but raised questions about the safety of cannabis. “I think there are studies that show that marijuana is more dangerous than people think and studies that show that it isn’t as dangerous,” she said. “I think we need more research.”
When asked about the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Wasserman Schultz said Israel has a clear right to defend itself. “Israel, like any nation, should be careful to avoid civilian casualties, but Hamas is a terrorist organization, make no mistake about it,” she said. “They are hellbent on the destruction of Israel.”
The United Nations has tasked a panel to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses perpetrated by both sides during the conflict. Wasserman Schultz said describing Israeli military actions as war crimes would be “outrageous” and that “this is something that the United States will aggressively and should aggressively push back on.”
Ramos asked Wasserman Schultz whether any tension exist between President Obama and his former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Clinton, considered a lock for the Democratic presidential ticket in 2016 should she run, critiqued Obama’s foreign policy last week.
“Not only do I not think there’s tension, it makes me chuckle that there’s been so much speculation about it,” she said. “President Obama and Secretary Clinton are good friends…Whatever happens in the future, I’m confident their relationship will be strong.”
The DNC chair also addressed the protests in Ferguson. “We need more training for police, we need more interaction between police and communities they are policing,” she said. “We need elected officials, which unfortunately did not happen in Ferguson, to take steps to ease tensions rather than fan the flames.”
Watch the full interview here: