The News Podcast: Trouble At The Border And Creepy Robots

New episode of The News podcast about the hunger strikes at the US–Mexico border and Pepper, HSBC's humanoid robot.

In this week's episode:

  • With news about family separations breaking almost every day at the US–Mexico border, this week on On The Lede, breaking news reporter Amber Jamieson and national security correspondent Adolfo Flores try to get some clarity around what is happening.

  • In A Robot Took My Job, Venessa Wong looks at whether the “future of banking” lays in an uncanny-valley robot.

  • It's the return of the Fake News Quiz! Debunker-in-chief Jane Lytvynenko breaks the summer fake news dry spell.

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.

The Lede — 00:34

Amber Jamieson: So Adolfo, last Thursday was the reunion deadline, reunification deadline set by the federal court for the government. Where are we right now at this moment in the family celebration crisis?

Adolfo Flores: The government said that it reunified reunited all of the families that were eligible. So it didn't unite the more than 2,000 families. They reunited 1,442 families, uh where the parent was in ice custody. And those are like the easiest to reunite because they're in the custody of the federal government. And then you have another group of 378 kids who were either reunited with a parent that was already released into the US or they were placed with a sponsor or you know, they turned 18 so they were no longer minors.

Uh, so when you put those together, it's a majority of the ones that they were supposed to reunite by the July 26 deadline. But they still have other ones.

AJ: And as part of this kind of ineligible children, that's like obviously quite a wide range of what counts for parents, being ineligible or not. Sometimes that's you know, if they're being detained if there's concerns about them being parents, um, you know, if there's issues with, you know, any past criminal issues that the parent may have had in their home country ... Does that also kind of mean that they you know, while they met the deadline, um as sort of set by the court, what does it mean now for those children?

AF: Uh that be- that's a good question. I think there the core is making them work through that group to see like with how they can reunite them or if you know if they're gonna place them with a with a sponsor. But this like this whole other group that they have to also deal with now because there's 400 and... about 468 kids who are separated from moms and dads at the border, but they weren't reunited because the parent was deported. Ultimately it is the government's I think the government's responsibility to find them.

AJ: You wrote this week a little bit about a group of fathers in the Karnes Detention Center in Texas who currently on strike. Can you talk about that? Yeah, so there's a group of 400 fathers and their sons at Karnes who have been in there for some up to 20 days, with no idea or information on when they're gonna be released. They're really frustrated because they don't know if they're gonna be released into the US, they don't know if you can be deported. I will say it seems like a lot of these fathers already signed their deportation orders. Uh, so people on the ground like RAÍCES, it's a advocacy group, they're trying to see if there are any fathers who sign their deportation orders under duress thinking it was the only way that could be reunited with their sons. They just want out because they have kids back home, they families back home that depend on them. And one of the dads said that: "I have one son here, but I have four other children to take care of and me sitting here, you know, I'm not feeding them." Uh, and so that's another frustration that they have.

AJ: I met a family last week when I was down reporting in Dilley, Texas, a father and a daughter who had crossed in January and been separated at the border, he was told at the time that his daughter was going to go to the Children's Center and that he would go to the adult center and it was sort of seen as this very standard thing. He said he had no idea if they had been concerned about him being a parent, if what issues they had been, he said not once did anyone explain why they had been separated, apart from just that it was this normal procedure. And you know, then it took seven months before they were reunited because of obviously the the reunification deadline set by the government and there were three times that he had been driven to the airport and told to get on a plane and that he was to be deported and that he refused to sign any of the documentations without without his daughter or without even any information about his daughter, which so he was saying I'm not getting on the plane if you don't tell me anything about her. Um, and it just sort of reminded me; I know you've been covering separations for much longer than the zero tolerance policy has been going on. I think that's kind of important sometimes for people to remember that obviously there was a huge, you know, literally thousands of children who were separated from their parents during that time, but that also that they still were happening both for their zero-tolerance policy and that they may still happen on for reasons that are not necessarily super clear or set out.

AF: Yeah. It's like this... It's been happening for a while. And that story was actually pretty interesting because they didn't even give the father a reason, right? It's just, they're just gonna, we're just gonna separate you.

AJ: One thing that has been quite hard, uh, when it comes to covering family separations and immigration is access to information and numbers and so forth. I know a lot of times they will not give whenever I ask for information on detention centers, I won't be given data on how many people are there, sort of saying that the numbers are changing so often, is that something you've found?

AF: Yeah, no, it's definitely very hard to get. ICE or any of the agencies at DHS to give detailed information or you know, especially with specific cases a it's very very difficult.

AJ: And can you talk a little bit about- one of the things that I really noticed in my reporting was the effects of detention that has happened, what the effects are on parents and children. I think often people when they hear about their reunifications, it's kind of like, oh great! They've been reunified! Everything is fine! Um, and that's not necessarily kind of examining everything that's going on in that sphere right now. So what are the kind of things that you're seeing in terms of the effects of the detention and the separations?

AF: You know these kids they were pretty traumatized at being separated. Or even just being in detention can traumatize a child, especially if they're younger. The concern from doctors is psychological development. I've met kids who came back with anger issues, who weren't that way. Kids who you know, just cling to their moms for months after they've been released. And the way that they respond can vary but it's very traumatic. I think it's for years you're gonna have to feel this and and deal with it.

AJ: Yeah, I I agree. Uh, I spoke with a lot of lawyers who are in Dilley which is uh, the South Texas Residential Family Center. Basically, it's kind of about an hour and half away from the Karnes Center where the fathers are currently on on a hunger strike, and that's where the dads are and then the moms are in Dilley with their children and the stories that the lawyers who are working down there were saying were basically telling stories of children who—not in, it hadn't happened to them in Dilley, it had happened to them before they had been there, in customs mainly in Customs and Border Patrol centers—where they'd been kicked by guards, hit by guards, had been told by social workers that they would be adopted by US parents or that they would never see their parents again. Um a lot of real kind of like emotional abuse. Apparently there was one guard who would ask for the child's mother's name and then he'd say, oh I'll go get her and then leave and not come back. There's been lots of reports about this, but being served frozen food including apparently raw meat or like throwing biscuits in the middle of the cages so that people would run in to get them. And so like I do think a lot of that sort of psychological stuff is going to take a long time to to really have any idea of what those implications would be particularly when you're dealing with children.

AF: I would not be surprised. This is something that the US is gonna have to reckon with later when these kids grow up or not. You know, these parents, you can imagine could bring a lawsuit uh, forward.

AJ: Yeah. One thing um, obviously you mentioned before about when children have had their parents be deported and they have remained here in the US. What's the responsibility of the US to get these kids back to their parents?

AF: My understanding is they, I mean; it's their responsibility to find the parent. I don't know how it's gonna play out like, once they find a parent are they going to give them the option of uh leaving the child here in the US with a sponsor, like with another family member, or sending the child back? Parents could come back because it has happened with deported people where the deported, you know sent across the border into Mexico and lawyers had been able to get them back in. I think it's gonna take a lawsuit but it'll be a real- I think it'll be crazy to see how that would play out.

AJ: Do you think that we'll be seeing, and I haven't heard of this happening yet, but I had believed it would be coming, which is that children, once contact has been made with families, that children will just be deported back to those countries.

AF: Yeah, I would imagine that a lot of them will but I also think some parents if they have family here in the US, they're gonna choose to leave them here because you know, a lot of them are fleeing violence and extreme poverty or or something. So, uh, a lot of parents always say it's it's better than what we're leaving. It's better than what we're like running from. I think some parents are gonna make that choice.

AJ: Yep this week there's been reports that there was a child that died shortly after being released from the ICE detention center in Dilley, Texas, which is where I had been last week, and ICE has come out and said, you know that no child has died in their care.

However, it's believe that she died from a respiratory illness contracted while she was in the care of that facility, and perhaps other facilities, we're obviously unaware of exactly what happened with the child. You know at the moment the ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said that without any kind of name or information that they're unable to research the allegations specifically, but do you have any idea of kind of what repercussions might be for the government in this kind of issue? If if there's negligence, what sort of would be the options available to the family, and have we had a similar incident like this happened before?

AF: I haven't heard of of uh a child dying, you know following detention, but if the family or the higher attorney and they can prove that the the child got sick through, because of negligence on the part of the US government, I think they could end up facing a pretty strong lawsuit. In the past, you know, there've been reports of medical negligence and then deaths that follow in ICE custody, due to lack of funds or resources, you know, people don't get the attention that they might have gotten outside of outside of immigration detention. But I would imagine that if the family finds that the government didn't take care of the daughter and as a result she was sick and died, they will be sued.

AJ: So what now? What is the government doing to address this and how do we see this changing in the next few months? Yeah. Let's start with kind of reunifications.

AF: Well, there's still have to do uh, like check-ins with the court in San Diego to see where these reunifications are and what steps that the government is taking, but one thing that the judge also told the government attorneys was that they need to come up with a procedure to make sure that the confusion of the last two months doesn't happen again. Because people are gonna keep coming right and then you're also going to have your going to keep having family separations to some degree. And he sort of called them out on them not having a centralized system. It was three different agencies. With no way of exchanging information and in any way that anyone would consider. So he told them, you have to figure out a system because this cannot repeat. Like this is... This cannot happen again.

AJ: And what about those who are in family detention? What is it going to mean for families in detention? Because I've heard of parents getting deportation orders when children are still going through the process and you know kind of different issues regarding the qualifications of what can be claimed as reasons for asylum and so forth. So do you have any kind of ideas of what's going to happen to the families who are in detention?

AF: The parents are gonna and the kids are gonna have a hard time, if they have separate cases, putting them back together. And also if the parent has a deportation order, uh, that they may be in a situation where they don't really have a choice. I mean the only choice they have is, do they take their kid with them or do they leave them here to fight their own immigration case? Uh, I don't know how many that's gonna be.

AJ: One thing. I've also been kind of worrying about is the changes that were made to what are the reasons that you can claim asylum. The attorney general Jeff Sessions said that you know domestic violence and gang violence is sort of no longer part of those reasons that can be necessarily easily used in the way that they have been in the past. And in Dilley, according to lawyers, the majority of women there were they're fleeing domestic abuse. And also had often gone through their credible interviews, which is the interview that they have to see whether there's a credible claim for asylum where they can then further their asylum claim and there's been reporting of this, you know, very shortly after separation and the parents were the mothers were hysterical and unable to answer any of the questions about you know, why have you fled your country? Are you in danger? Do you fear for your life? Because their only focus was on their children. So it does seem like there's a bunch of very difficult immigration cases now for lawyers in how they're going to be able to argue, um people's claims for asylum. And in kind of light of these separations because it's sort of threw a bomb in the middle of the normal immigration process.

AF: Yeah. I mean the criticism from from groups like The American Immigration Lawyers Association, is that instead of you know doing a case by case review, now they're just broadly denying these claims. And so attorneys are gonna have to get a little bit smarter about how they present these cases, but it was already hard to get asylum.

I can't imagine this is gonna make the numbers go go up. I mean if anything it's gonna make it even more harder.

AJ: You know, looking forward between the next couple of years of the Trump Administration, what are we expecting, you know, the immigration policies to be?

AF: I honestly don't know. I don't think that anybody does. Uh things change so fast and they you know, they did the the zero tolerance policy, and then he took it back in June through an executive order. So it's hard to tell. I couldn't tell you.

AJ: Well Adolfo I guess that means we just have to spend the next however many months and years of our lives continuing to follow it.

AF: Yeah. I don't think this is something that's going to go away anytime soon. So definitely.

A Robot Took My Job — 13:02

Venessa Wong:

Pepper: If you don't want to wait for a teller my good friend the ATM can tell you your balance and more, here's how!

Julia Furlan: So, Venessa, what is this that we are hearing right now?

Venessa Wong: So that was pepper AKA the future of banking

JF: No no

VW: So they say. But right now more like, kind of like, a glamorized door greeter at the HSBC Lobby in New York City.

JF: So you went to visit pepper here in New York, right?

VW: I did. I met pepper in the flesh. It was so weird. So you walk into the HSBC lobby and there's kind of this table in the Middle with, I don't know, security guards or people who can help you. But there's also a Pepper and when you wake it up...

TAPE: VW: Hello. Do you talk? P: How may I help you? You can select one of these options for just ask me a question

VW: It’s eyes just follow you. It looks up at you, and as you move up, down, left and right, it connects with you.

JF: Oh, no.

VW: Okay. So that's on, like, one level. Then you start talking to Pepper…

TAPE: VW: Are you here to help me with my banking needs?

VW: Pepper does not, did not connect with me on that level.

TAPE: VW: Can you introduce yourself? P: My name is Pepper? VW: What do you do? P: How may I help you, you can select one of these options or just ask me a question.

JF: So, what does Pepper do?

VW: They're there to help guide customers to ATMs primarily, was my experience with Pepper. They also can sort of market HSBC's new products and services.

P: My mobile app to check balances, deposit checks, pay bills and lots more. What would you like to learn more?

VW: For now, for now, it can't do anything transactional for you. It can’t actually like, spit cash out at you of you swipe your debit card or something like that. But the bank has plans to roll out more of these robots at more branches to, sort of, take banking into the 21st century.

JF: I think there's a really important question here that I don't know if Pepper is answering, but why do we want this? Who was like, you know what? I think there should be more robots that we talk to.

VW: Vanessa the consumer is drawing a blank right now because I also don't know that customers wanted a humanoid robot in their bank lobby. I can see, however, why HSBC and other retailers would want this. It offloads some of the smaller tasks that humans, paid expensive humans handle, onto a robot so that they can focus on, like, more high-minded activities. You know, that's a lot cheaper than having to hire a door greeter or someone like that to help you with those kind of lightweight customer services.

Omar Abdel: You know the purpose for Pepper in the bank and in, you know, most of our locations, is to give if level one service.

VW: Here’s Omar Abdel Waheed, whose the head of studio for SoftBank Robotics.

OA: So the most frequently asked question, where is the ATM, and that's a basic thing that Pepper should be able to answer. As soon as Pepper gets a question that's more involved, about, say, financial planning then she should handoff to sales and banking representatives in the bank.

VW: So SoftBank leases Pepper to its clients for about $25,000 for three years.

JF: That's cheaper than, anyone could be probably, like, hiring a robot is cheaper than hiring a human.

VW: Oh, yeah totally, you cannot get a human in 2018 to work for you for that little monay.

JF: Certainly not in New York City.

Fake News Quiz — 22:12

JF: Jane!

Jane Lytvynenko: Hi Julia! I've missed you.

JF: I know I missed you too.

JL: It's been a very um, long dry summer without fake news.

JF: Oh it always is. I can't wait to do this segment because I feel like I wasn't steeped in the news as I usually am. So I think you're gonna—I think it's gonna be hard for me this week.

JL: You know with the questions that I've prepared they can really go either way. So I'm really excited to finally stump you on something.

JF: Okay, come at me Jane. I'm gonna do this.

JL: All right, here we go. Um a drug cartel put a bounty on a police dog because she sniffed out over 2,000 kilograms of cocaine. Is that real or fake?

JF: Oh my God. I really don't know. I'm gonna say that that is fake because it sounds fake.

JL: You are wrong!

JF: No this poor dog! A dog with a bounty on its head!

JL: So no no no, she is wonderful. So her name is Sombra and she has been with the Colombian police force since she was a puppy, and she has busted more than 245 criminals.

JF: Wow

JL: And she is now being moved around the country because she has a bounty on her head. That bounty is about 200 million Colombian pesos, which is about $70,000, just because she's such a good girl! And she's very cute.

JF: Oh, what kind of dog is she?

JL: She's a German Shepherd. Um, there are pictures of her looking very happy and proud of herself. I think always the best part about dogs is that they have no idea what's happening. Like she doesn't know that she's busting these criminals. She's just doing a good job. So I hope that she's getting lots of treats.

JF: Humans are dumb, dogs are smart. Wow. Okay, so I got it wrong.

JL: You got it wrong.

JF: Okay. Well...

JL: Let's see how you're gonna do on the next one.

JF: Okay.

JL: Researchers have discovered a new animal which is a mix of a whale and a dolphin. Is that real or fake?

JF: A mix of a whale and a dolphin? Okay, a lot of these science stories I feel like are sort of like weaponized to go super duper viral and I wonder if—

JL: Oh yeah there's always a study every couple of weeks on a slow news day about how coffee is good for you.

JF: Right exactly. Which... thank you. Um a mix of a whale and a dolphin. Okay. Here's my pitch: I'm gonna say that this is real because aren't, aren't there like donkeys and horses — isn't there something I...

JL: You're just trying to think about which animals species have sex with each other.

JF: Yeah exactly that's what I mean. I'm gonna say whale-dolphin, dolph-whale is real.

JL: So you're correct. I'm researchers in Hawaii saw, um what the internet is calling a whal-fin.

JF: Hahaha whal-fin, that's good.

JL: They saw one in the wild and it's a mix between a melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin. Um now there's a caveat to it. Um, they are both part of the delphinidae family. Um, but one is called a dolphin, one is called a whale, and this is a very very rare natural occurrence. So the researchers are hoping to uh, figure out how it happened and maybe see if they can find more in the wild.

JF: Wow, okay whal-fin

JL: It's very cute; if you look at the pictures, it looks sort of dumb like its head is like a melon and it is kind of spotty on its belly. It's very cute.

JF: Okay, whal-fin, okay.

JL: Whal-fin. Also, dol-phale. Yeah, um the other possibility. So congratulations on that one.

JF: Wow, I didn't dol-fail that one.

JL: Oh my God, Julia.

JF: Okay. What next?

JL: All right. Um, here's a fun one: Japan is hiring Ninjas for 85 thousand dollars per year. Is that real or fake?

JF: Okay, this sounds so fake. One of the fakest things about this is that there's a money amount involved. Like the country of Japan is just like funding this. I it seems like too bizarre and too like easily understood to be true. I'm gonna say it's fake.

JL: So you're correct. It's fake. So you have better sense than a lot of publications who ran with the story as if it were real. Um, and here's what happened: the mayor the mayor of Igas which is a town in Japan that's essentially considered the birthplace of ninjas, went on an NPR podcast and talked about how um, the there's a population drop in Iga and they're looking to open a second Ninja museum.

TAPE: It's not just construction workers and architects; it also extends to, Stacy, ninjas. There's a ninja shortage?

There's a ninja shortage.

JL: Um that got taken completely out of context as you can imagine and outlets like Fox News, Mail Online, and a few others essentially said that Japan is running out of ninjas and hiring them. This got blown so out of proportion that the mayor actually had to call a press conference and be like "guys, it's cool, we don't need ninjas."

JF: Isn't there like a lifetime of learning that you have to do to be a ninja? Isn't it like not a thing that you just do in a costume and like have a sword? That's I... People have no respect anymore.

JL: It's true. It's true. Respect the ninjas. So you're you are two out of three this week.

JF; That's right.

jl; The Colombian police dog, really threw you.

JF: This episode is dedicated to that adorable Colombian police dog.

JL: Her name is Sombra.

JF: Sombra. This is for you.


This episode was produced by the PodSquad! That's Megan Detrie, Alex Laughlin, Camila Salazar, and Julia Furlan. Our boss is Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, and our music is by Chad Crouch. And special thank you to JoJo, who, fun fact: Went to robot school with Pepper. They weren't really friends.

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