Next DHS Chief May Be More Aggressive With Immigration Enforcement
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to focus now on the implications of the leadership change at the Department of Homeland Security - specifically, what Kirstjen Nielsen's departure as the head of DHS will mean for the president's immigration policies. Congress and the courts have been reining in the administration's immigration plans. Yesterday, a federal judge in San Francisco blocked Trump's plan to force asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico. What other steps might the president try in order to fulfill a campaign promise to limit immigration into the U.S.? Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has helped shape the Trump administration's policies on immigration. And he's in our studios this morning.
Thanks so much for being here.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Glad to be here.
MARTIN: Are you pleased to see Kirstjen Nielsen go at DHS?
KRIKORIAN: Yeah, I think it's long overdue. This job was not for her. She was in over her head. She's a cybersecurity person, and that she knows. And DHS does deal with issues like that. But the most pressing issues that DHS has been dealing with are, obviously, immigration-related issues. And she did not appreciate the urgency of this. We wrote about a year ago about how things were almost certainly going to be spinning out of control. And if we saw it, then they should have seen it, too.
MARTIN: Although she publicly backed all of the president's policies, including the very controversial policy of separating children from their families.
KRIKORIAN: This was something - it was a day late and a dollar short, I think, on her part. In other words, she came to appreciate the urgency to respond to this developing emergency on the border but much too late. And she just - I mean, she had to go. We really need a new approach - a more serious and urgent approach to deal with this developing emergency.
MARTIN: So what does that mean? When you say more serious and more urgent, what does that mean?
KRIKORIAN: There's a couple of things just that I think are worth touching on. First, we need to have a declaration and implementation of a mass migration emergency plan. That's actually something that exists. It's been developed for years - a response to mass arrival of people. It's been formulated to deal with seaborne migration emergencies, people from Haiti or Cuba arriving in huge numbers on rafts.
But this is the similar thing at the Mexican border. And what that would involve, for instance, would be tent cities the Army sets up next to existing detention facilities. So you hold people and don't let them go into the country 'cause that's really the key. We're letting people go, and then that's the end of the story. I mean, the rest - then they're gone, and that incentivizes people down in Central America to follow them because...
MARTIN: So you really can imagine the United States of America building tent cities to house asylum-seekers?
KRIKORIAN: Oh, absolutely. We've done it before. We - in Guantanamo, we did it with Cuban and Haitian rafters. And the point is that it - that by doing that, you take away the incentive for the mass arrivals 'cause the whole point is to use asylum as a - a claim of asylum as a strategy for illegal immigration to be released into the U.S.
The Guardian just had a story where they interviewed people - smugglers and prospective illegal immigrants in Guatemala. And they - and the people said, look. People - we're hearing from people who went to the border, were let in, released. And they're working. And they're - you know, they got away with it. And so more people will be following. That has to change.
MARTIN: What do you think more broadly - or do you believe that the U.S. asylum laws more broadly need to change?
KRIKORIAN: Absolutely. There's no question that it's too easy to use asylum as a way of getting illegally into the United States. And probably, the most important first change would need to be - and this is statutory; this is something Congress has to do - is raise the standards for the first cut - to make the first cut for asylum. It's called a credible fear interview. And the point is - you know, is your case even plausible? Now almost everybody gets approved. That can't continue because there is - it is unsustainable.
MARTIN: Do you believe that's the direction that the president wants to move in?
KRIKORIAN: I think so, clearly. I mean, there - but there's limit to what he can do as opposed to what Congress needs to do. One of the things that I think we're going to see a change - that we really do need to see a change is ICE changing its priorities, at least for now, so that what they do is they prioritize the return of failed asylum-seekers.
Now if you go through the process, you're turned down for asylum, there's really no consequences. Until people in Central America see failed asylum-seekers in large numbers being returned, they're just going to keep coming.
MARTIN: Conservative immigration activist Mark Krikorian - he is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.
Thanks so much.
KRIKORIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.