The News This Week: "They Are Children, Not Hostages"

Podcast episode about asylum-seekers at the US–Mexico border, Ziosk tablets at restaurants, and this week's news headlines.

In this week's episode of The News:

  • Deputy Global News Director Ryan Broderick shares a reporter's notebook from protests he came across in Mexico City.
  • VP of News and Programming Shani Hilton talks to Head of Breaking News Tom Namako and reporter Adolfo Flores about what is happening on the US–Mexico border.
  • Business editor Venessa Wong talks to senior tech reporter Caroline O’Donovan about how Ziosk tablets affect restaurant servers — from enabling workplace sexual harassment to literally docking their hours and pay.
  • Curation editor Elamin Abdelmahmoud talks host Julia Furlan through the week’s news, and tells her what to expect.

Listen to this week’s episode:

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Check out BuzzFeed’s other podcasts here, and you can find transcripts for other episodes here.

Reporter's Notebook - 00:51

JF: It has been a wild week following the story of Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy and the resulting separations between family members at the border. We saw heartbreaking images of children in cages, we saw them separated from their families... On Wednesday Trump signed an executive order that made it so that families could stay together, but there was a lot of confusion about how detention centers were going to work exactly. Then there was also a huge rush to action with people donating money, calling their representatives, and protesting.

Tape: Locking up families is wrong! Locking up families is wrong!

JF: There were also protests in Mexico City this week.

Tape: Los niños son [inaudible]

JF: Here's a reporter's notebook from Deputy Global News Director Ryan Broderick.

Ryan Broderick: Yesterday when I was leaving the office I passed the U.S. embassy and saw a huge crowd of people, like probably 100-200 people protesting. There were chants of "these are children, not hostages."

Tape: Son ninos, no rehenes!

RB: There was a guy dressed up like a KKK member. There were other people holding posters with Donald Trump next to Hitler, and they had lined the fence of the embassy with baby dolls draped in tinfoil to sort of match the now iconic photos of what some of these detention centers look like. I wanted to ask the people there if there was one thing that they wish Americans understood about how they feel watching all of this happen, you know following us on the news and not being able to do anything about it. And the answers were pretty surprising.

Tape: We are really angry because we think that children are humans and they don't deserve to be apart from their families, you know?

It's against dignity and human rights, and all that's going on should stop. That's why. Because I don't think it's fair for anybody in the world.

This is unacceptable. The children belong to be with all the families. Not alone, not in cages!

I'm a mother and I just can't imagine my children going through what the other 2,000 children are going through.

Realize the importance of this issue. I mean this is a very very very dangerous things in terms of international matters.

I personally think the American people doesn't see us like an equals. The privi--the white privilege is very strong in America. So I think this is a problem of race, this is a problem of social problem, and I don't think this is going to end so soon.

And they're full of lies. They are only tell lies. I mean what are they doing right now? Where are they?

We can't be silent and we can't pretend that it's not happening.

Please please feel something, have heart, have soul, have something! America or USA is the country of freedom; it's not true at this moment.

This is something that we thought we passed already in the World Wars, and it's happening now. So not only Americans. All the world needs to be aware of what is happening now. Because I think it's very very important.

Son niños, no rehenes! Son niños, no rehenes!

JF: That was deputy Global News Director Ryan Broderick.

The Lede - 04:24

Our reporter Adolfo Flores has been reporting on immigration for BuzzFeed News since 2014. And he called us from McAllen, Texas, where he was trying to wrap his head around this massive story as it unfolds. This week on The Lede, Shani Hilton and Head of Breaking News Tom Namako talked to Adolfo about where this is all going, and what the consequences may be.

Shani Hilton: Hi Adolfo. Hi Tom.

Adolfo Flores: Hi.

Tom Namako: Hello.

SH: Adolfo where are you right now?

AF: I'm in a Best Western in McAllen, Texas. It's ground zero for the family separations because a lot of people come through the area and they have to go to the court house here.

TN: President Trump signed an executive order earlier this week that was supposed to address this, but it's extremely confusing what it actually does. And it doesn't seem to do anything actually immediately. It was almost like showmanship on his part. Right he holds up the sign, he holds up the executive order, he says, "look what I've done." How do you think that changes people's perceptions of like what is happening going forward. Yeah I think you know when he says, "I signed an executive order ending family separation," if you look at it really quickly and just based off of what he says, you think, "oh okay, the parents and the kids are going to stay together." But the executive order what it does is it just it's trying to hold the families together in detention until their immigration case is over. That can take months or more than a year. And these detention centers are like prisons. They're jails. Like I have been to prisons. I've been to jails, I've been to detention centers... They are not that different.

TN: Adolfo one thing that strikes me here is that this issue really seemed to have caught on and really caught fire after NBC gained access to one of these facilities.

TAPE: People in here are locked up in cages, essentially what look like animal kennels. I don't know any other way to describe it

TN: After that it seems that the administration has completely dried up all access to these facilities. Our general counsel Nabiha Syed recently wrote a letter to the administration to, I think it was Customs and Border Patrol, demanding access for us to gain entry into one of the facilities, specifically the one in McAllen, Texas. Can you talk a bit about what kind of effect it has when the public does not really kind of see what these facilities are like, and what it has on their perception of the issue and what is going on?

AF: Yeah I think you know just all the reason that people in general took such an interest in this and were upset was because they got to see what it was like. And it's only because of that that I think the story has gotten the attention. You know you see kids in cages, you know kids lying on the mats on the ground with those thin sheets and then you hear audio of them crying and of the kids being mocked

TAPE: about a 10 year old girl with down syndrome who was taken from her mother and put in a cage.

Womp womp.

I read about a-- did you just say "womp womp" about a 10 year old with down syndrome? How dare you. How dare you.

Ann Coulter: ...And I would also say one other thing: these child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now, do not fall for it Mr. President. Don't fall for the actor children.

AF: So I think the more you get to hear and see what it's like and actually understand, they--then they'll know. Like what's happening, what's being done by the United States. And they may get mad or they may not, you know but for me it's just really hard to get in there. I have asked numerous agencies that oversee this process and every time they say that they either can't, or they don't reply, or you know they say that it's too much for them to handle right now. So getting access is very difficult.

TN: And it's not just journalists. Just even earlier this week a large contingent of mayors went down to the border. They went down to the facility the quote unquote "tent city" which is near El Paso, and wanted access and then were denied. So even kind of officials are also not seeing the inside of these places. Why would they not want people to go inside these facilities?

AF: When you look at kids in jail settings, people get upset. Especially parents; I think they're going to see their kid in those kids. And that's what's causing all this backlash for the administration. So I would imagine that they have an interest in not having people see this because they don't want to be attacked for their decision to do this. I mean, I mean they keep saying that it's the Democrats' fault.

TAPE: The Democrats have failed to come to the table, failed to help this president close these loopholes and fix this problem.

That's the Democrats' law. We can change it tonight. We can change it right now.

And Democrats simply refuse to do their job and fix the problem.

And I say it's very strongly the Democrats' fault.

AF: This is the result of their zero tolerance policy. And I don't think, even though they say it's not them, I think most people know that it is. And there, they don't want, they don't want to hear it.

SH: And Adolfo you've been covering this for a long time but you've been covering this particular wave of this story for a while now with the caravan and now the separations. What are you seeing in terms of how people are--are people changing their behavior, are people continuing to cross in the same manner?

AF: I think a lot of them even before the more recent changes were saying, "I'm going to wait. I'm gonna wait and see." For asylum seekers, I mean things have been changing for them so fast in the last couple of weeks. You had Sessions issue an order that said if you're fleeing domestic violence or gang violence, that that is not grounds for asylum.

TAPE: Jeff Sessions: Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems even all serious problems that people face every day all over the world.

AF: And that's going to make it really hard for them to win their asylum case now. Because judges, immigration judges are going to look at that order. But it just seems like across the board it's going to be really hard. But also the border like something that we saw with the caravan arrived in Tijuana was, even if you go to the port of entry and you ask for asylum, you're being turned away. Not just by U.S. border agents but by Mexican border agents. And you know that is still happening now and

SH: Which is why people are crossing illegally. Or crossing at not ports of entry.

AF: Well that's what people say; like you want us to go through the port of entry and to quote unquote "the right way," but you keep turning us away. I have I have a kid I'm just camping out in the middle of this bridge. There's no bathroom there's no food, there's you know a bunch of criminals who like, in that area who like to take advantage of migrants. But you're making you wait here for days and then you're upset that I tried to cross the river. And then you try to take my kid away.

SH: And when they cross they turn themselves in pretty much immediately to CBP.

AF: Yeah. Well some some do yeah, and some don't. But now you don't want to do that. Now if you're going to cross the river you probably don't want to get caught, and then make the asylum claim later so that you're not separated from your kid

TN: In New York there are videos of children being walked into some facilities in like literally the middle of the night. There are videos of them coming off of airplanes in middle of the night. There are facilities all across the country, and they're entering the foster system, they're entering different kinds of facilities. What is your confidence about these children being actually reunited with their parents at the end of this very very long process where the parent is going through the legal system and may eventually be deported. What is your confidence level that they will actually become a family again?

AF: I I feel like it won't happen in 100 percent of cases. You know there's already you know mothers who have been deported to Guatemala or other parts of Central America who were deported without their kid. So that to me is an indication of... there's something wrong with the process that that would happen. I'm sure that in some cases they will be reunited and I hope it's in most of them, but you know there's always you always hear about these instances where they don't. But I have a strong feeling that a lot of the kids will at least be able to go to a close family member or friend. In the past that's what's been happening with unaccompanied minors. About 80, 90 percent of them go with a family member or a close relative or a friend that will sponsor them. But yeah I mean it's hard to tell. You know we won't know until the parent either is deported...their asylum case is over.

TN: We've heard about things like comprehensive immigration reform and that's kind of this Holy Grail that's being chased after for all these years and no administration has been quite successful in getting it. Do you think this kind of moment of chaos right now, the way the Trump administration handled the zero tolerance policy, the separations... Do you think that gets us closer to comprehensive immigration reform? Do you think that takes us farther away from it? Just kind of where are we in the history of this of this issue?

AF: I don't think it gets us closer to comprehensive comprehensive immigration reform. I don't know what it gets us closer to to be honest with you. But it's definitely not that. It's sort of throwing these obstacles in the way of just what we were used to, right? The asylum process is different now, the you know the you being able to ask for asylum, detention is different, detention of immigrants is growing and it's going out you know with a lot of private companies. So you have all these what you know advocates would describe as obstacles that are being added. So if anything for them it's like we have to deal with all these other things and also have to work with you know to try to get some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. Which honestly right now you just don't even hear about. That's not what people are talking about. They're talking about this issue here at the border. They're talking about DACA. They're also talking about TPS which is you know going to be a big problem down the line.

SH: What's TPS?

AF: Temporary Protected Status. It allowed immigrants from certain countries to stay in the U.S. you know until things got better. A lot of countries have been losing them under the administration. So you're going to have thousands and thousands of people who are in theory going to have to go back to their countries. To countries that even their leaders say they're not ready to receive. And I know I don't think people are going to go quietly. So how that's going to play out... I think it's something that immigrant advocates are also worried about.

SH: So what are you covering while you're in Texas the next few days.

AF: So I'm trying to track down some of these parents and speak with them. Me and everybody else, all the other reporters that are here. I think it's important to hear what would happen to them and to hear their voices. I was in a court hearing on Tuesday morning and there were 74 people there for legal entry. I want to say about 32 of them had been separated from their kid. So you know I want to I want to reach out to folks and just hear from them.

TAPE: ...Separated from her five year old daughter and two nieces as well. Ms. Hernandez, separated from her nine year old son, and Mr. Hernandez Juarez has been separated from his six year old daughter. And we're all very concerned about their children.

SH: I'm really... I mean thank you and I'm really looking forward to seeing your stories as you as you publish them.

TN: Yes!

AF: Thank you.

JF: That was V.P. of News and Programming Shani Hilton speaking with Head of Breaking News Tom Namako and National Security Correspondent for Immigration Adolfo Flores.

What a week it has been, JoJo. JoJo is our handy dandy news bot who texts you more information about the stories that we're bringing to your ears. Here's how you talk to JoJo:

Step one: open your messaging app on your cell phone.
Step two: you type in JoJo's number. It's 929-236-9577.
Step 3: Text JoJo the word that we give you. They will text you the story that we're talking about so that you can read it yourself after you're done with this episode. If you want to follow Adolfo's border coverage text JoJo the word "family" right now and you'll get it right to your phone. P.S. Don't forget JoJo's number is also in the show notes for this here episode.

A Robot Took My Job - 17:28

JF: You know when you go to a restaurant or like at the airport and sometimes there are these little tablets on the tables where you can place your orders? A lot of them are created by a company called Ziosk. This week on A Robot Took My Job, Business Editor Venessa Wong talks to Senior Tech Reporter Caroline O'Donovan about how those tablets are affecting restaurant servers, from enabling workplace sexual harassment to literally docking their hours and pay. Take it away Venessa.

Venessa Wong: So I have to say this story actually brought me to an Uno's Pizzeria which I haven't been to in like maybe 20 years.

Tape: Table for one? I guess.

VW: But because I wanted to experience the tablet!

Tape: Shows 30 games that I can play, and a menu of drinks, food...

VW: It also has a feature at the end after you pay, a customer survey, that varies in terms of what the questions are. But you know they're mostly about "how is your service, how is your food, would you come back to this restaurant" that kind of thing.

Tape: Were you satisfied with the attentiveness of the staff during your visit today. Highly dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral satisfied, or highly satisfied. I'm gonna go with highly satisfied.

VW: And that survey is actually used in many cases to calculate a composite score that evaluates your server's performance and in some cases is used to meat out discipline for under-performing servers.

Caroline O'Donovan: What kind of feedback are people leaving them on these tablets?

VW: Nine times out of ten it is something banal but sometimes it's not as polite an interaction I would say. Whether it's teenagers who are just messing around who might write in like a meme or something, or just a bunch of curse words just to you know be edgy. Then you also have people who write things that can be hurtful and in some cases I would classify them as harassment, right. So I talked to a number of servers who said they had received comments on their appearance. You know people asking for their phone number or leaving their phone number. People basically using the system to hit on them. You know I talked to someone who said there have been comments about the size of her breasts on the Ziosk.

COD: Oh my God!

VW: You know and the thing about that is in a lot of these cases it's not just that it's occurring, right which is unfortunate but I think a lot of people in the service industry are somewhat inert to comments like that. They consider it the cost of doing business more or less which you know is not something that I think is fantastic but is sort of the reality. But when those comments are then getting you know typed up and printed out. And in one case at least highlighted as as a positive about you know, "oh this customer really enjoyed themselves here," in part because they thought that their server was sexually attractive. I think that sort of crosses an interesting line. Some managers I spoke to take an effort to black out you know the comments that they feel like would be inappropriate in a workplace but obviously that's not how it's being used in all cases based on the interviews with some of the servers that I did.

COD: Right. How about the financial impact they have?

VW: I don't think that customers necessarily realize the amount of control or power that they exercise over the server when they're taking this survey. In one case someone said you know they were having trouble keeping their scores up. And as a result their manager took away some of the tables in their section. I think that customers feel like, "oh this is just some information I'm sharing with the restaurant to improve the experience." And I think that is more or less how the restaurants consider themselves to be using it but because the customer's answer is being turned into a number basically that stands in for how good a job the servers doing, the customer is actually taking on some of the responsibilities of management to a certain extent right.

COD: I mean in a world where like people's scores are you know constantly under threat, are they providing better service? I mean does the customer win in this situation perhaps because servers are like really under the gun to like get five out of five?

VW: I mean like I said I think that some customers might enjoy the experience I think obviously people like to hear that their voices are heard. Customers tend to feel that they've had a better experience if they can share their gripes, sort of. Like Yelp is a really obvious example of a place for people like to do that. But when you leave a review on Yelp where you air your frustration on you if you've ever seen a business owner responding in the Yelp comments you can sense the desperation right like that can be really bad for a business if even just one or two people are there in public complaining about something specific. And I think something that's really fascinating about systems like Ziosk is they allow for the same interaction to happen for the customer to achieve the same sense of satisfaction of having been heard but without directly threatening the viability of the restaurant.

COD: So I feel like there are two really bad things happening here. One is there's this rating system that customers don't fully understand but that has real world impact on these workers' lives and how many hours they're getting. And then there's also this new dimension of anonymous commenting that you can very easily leave on the desktop tablet for your server and sometimes about things that are like completely out of their control.

VW: Yeah I totally agree. I think that it's on the one hand the customer is being put in the position of evaluating a worker in a quantitative way and that they're filling out this survey and that is producing this number that then attaches itself to a server and determines how much money they're able to make or in one or two cases whether or not they're actually able to keep their job. And it's also opening up a channel to customers to leave more or less anonymous comments which the worker then has to encounter in their workplace and in some cases are delivered to them by their manager in their workplace. And as we sort of all know anonymous digital commenting is not necessarily the most respectful or refined form of discourse. And I think just given how unclear we are as a society about what the different star ratings mean I think that's something to be concerned about and to really be cautious about when you see a survey that's asking you how your experience was.

JF: That was A Robot Took My Job with Venessa Wong and Caroline O'Donovan. JoJo wants me to tell you that they don't want to take your job. They just want to make it easier for you to get the stuff that you want right to your phone. So if you want to read more about the OSC text Jo-Jo the word server their number is 929-236-9577. Wait producer Alex, can I get a little samba jazz under this? OK now I'm going to do it real slow. Ready. 929-236-9577. Yeah!

Subject Line - 24:28

And now it's time for a Subject Line where Elamin Abdelmahmoud, the Prince of Newsletters here at BuzzFeed, takes a news story and gives it to me in a pretty little subject line for all of us to understand. Because the world is a lot. Elamin, Prince of Newsletters, this is a Subject Line, your time to shine. Are you ready?

Elamin Abdelmahmoud: I'm just wondering about this whole Prince of Newsletters thing. Can this be my new job title, is there like a management person I can talk to? I really like it.

JF: Your new job title is Prince of Newsletters!

EA: Thank you.

JF: So the first story that I have for you is about the ACLU taking action against Amazon for a particular thing that they did with AI. What would be your subject line for that Elamin?

EA: Well the subject line for that is "you got a fast car, I got a database that can scan millions of faces in seconds."

JF: Oh my god... okay

EA: Okay so Amazon has developed this technology called Recognition. It is a very powerful piece of technology that can you guessed it recognize some faces.And recently we saw it being used during the royal wedding for example when Sky News used it to track celebrities as they were rolling in. It was fascinating and super cool but also super weird and the ACLU sort of discovered that Amazon has been shopping it around to some law enforcement agencies and they would like that very much to stop.

JF: I also would like that

EA: That's fair that's fair.

JF: Elamin good job you did it.

EA: Did I do that time?

JF: Yeah gently, you did.

EA: What do you mean "gently?"

JF: I mean I'm counting on my fingers and it's not an exact science okay. Time is not a real thing.

EA: Yes it is. Time is a real concept. It is not just a construct.

JF: Okay one more I'm going to try and I'm not even going to like really set this up for you. I've got to ask you one simple question. Are you ready Elamin?

EA: Yes.

JF: Are you high?

EA: No! Not until October 17th which is the day that Canada makes recreational marijuana officially legal in this country. That's where I live.

JF: And what is the subject line that you would put that into?

EA: Give us your tired your anxious masses yearning to get lit. That's that's it. I don't even feel bad about it and I regret nothing.

JF: Listen the Statue of Liberty has been used for a lot of things recently.

EA: This is it. I'm here to help. I've discovered a new use.

JF: Wonderful. And what does that subject mean?

EA: Well as someone who lives in Canada and has been enjoying the debates that we continue to have about the legalization of marijuana, one of the promises that Justin Trudeau made before he got elected was that during his first term as prime minister he's going to make weed legal. He's following up on that. I think it took a little bit longer than most people expected because a lot of different provinces were like, "how do we administer this? What are the different considerations have to take into account?" And now finally Canada has gotten around to it and here we are. October 17th is the day. A lot of people in this country are really excited for the day. I'm not going to go outside on that day because I feel like I'll just get a contact high just walking up.

JF: Hey Elamin are you going to call it "Canadabis?"

EA: No of course I'm not going to call it Canadabis. I will move if we do. Oh my god Julia.

JF: Okay I I'm going to give you some news.

EA: I'm ready for the news.

JF: You were not so high as to miss your deadline. You actually made that one in 30 seconds.

EA: I'm not high at all! Also I don't know I'm raising my voice but more importantly, go me.

JF: I'm proud of you.

EA: Thank you I'm proud of myself.

JF: Okay for your final question. I give you the topic for you to boil down to one subject line is: the United States pulling out of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Go!

EA: The subject line is, "you know that I could use somebody." And the reason that's the subject line is because it's really emblematic of the slow retreat that the U.S. has had from the world stage in terms of being the world's you know morality police in terms of being a part of the conversation that sets the values internationally. Under this presidency that retreat has been you know ongoing last year. Nikki Haley the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said that you know if Human Rights Council doesn't become doesn't stop being a cesspool of political bias then the U.S. will pull out. And so they have.

JF: Yeah that's about it. Sounds about right. The U.S. is pulling out of...

EA: How do you feel about this?

JF: You know the U.S. pulling out of the Human Rights Council it seems appropriate because they don't seem to be prioritizing human rights to say the least.

EA: Sure!

JF: Elamin you won! You did a great job congratulations.

EA: Thank you.

JF: That was Elamin Abdelmahmoud. If you want to see the brilliance that he spits out every early morning in the BuzzFeed News newsletter, just text JoJo the word "newsletter." Again their number is 929-236-9577.

This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That's Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, and me, Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch.

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