Donald Trump Moves Forward With Plan To Build Border Wall

Jan 25, 2017
Originally published on January 25, 2017 10:39 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For more now on the president's executive orders on border security and how they might be implemented, we're joined by NPR's John Burnett, who covers immigration. And John, first, will anything happen immediately?

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Robert. Well, it's really the start of a long process. Most of this is going to play out over months and even years. The planning process for the wall needs to start now. Lots of things have to happen. They can't just start paving access roads and buying the steel down there in the desert - same thing with this call for 5,000 new Border Patrol agents that he's promised. That expands the force by 25 percent. In the past, agents have been hard to recruit. They have to pass rigorous vetting and academy training to wear the green uniform.

What he can do overnight are some administrative changes within ICE of who federal agents can detain and deport. He can boost deportations really starting tomorrow. The agency can redefine who's a criminal alien, not just a murderer or rapist or a drug dealer under Obama's DHS but a drunk driver or a domestic abuser or a shoplifter.

And likewise, ICE can start tomorrow putting asylum seekers in private prisons even more than they do now until their cases are resolved. But I can guarantee you there'll be lots of human rights advocates filing lawsuits on detention conditions.

SIEGEL: And, John, how would you say these measures would actually change the way that border patrol and immigration enforcement agents do their jobs?

BURNETT: Well, we heard the president say today he's asking agents to strongly enforce immigration laws. He wants to unshackle them. And after all, these are federal agents. They're cops. They have handcuffs and Tasers, and they want to do their jobs. They don't want to process asylum seekers all day.

I know the agents want to do more. They want to - for instance, Border Patrol wants to start patrolling transportation centers like bus stations and airports. ICE wants to go back to the old policy of workplace raids if possible.

But again, immigrant rights advocates are really going to be closely monitoring how these federal agents do their jobs. If they violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, there will be more lawsuits so they don't overstep their authority.

SIEGEL: In a congressional testimony, Trump's Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly - General Kelly, said that a border wall is not enough. What more does he have in mind?

BURNETT: Well, you know, I've talked to lots of these border agents since the election, and they know that a wall - this greatly touted wall - is not really a panacea for border security. The agents know their other measures are just as important - stadium lights, ground sensors, camera towers and, most of all, agents.

The wall is kind of symbolic language even though we heard it again and again and again. And it's likely to be a fence, not a wall. Even the language in Trump's executive order says, quote, "physical wall or other similar secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier."

SIEGEL: Although...

BURNETT: So that leaves an option open.

SIEGEL: Although when he spoke of this, he very explicitly said today a wall, once again. But yes, go ahead, John.

BURNETT: Yeah, he did. But actually what they construct on the southern border are fences.

SIEGEL: What about funding for these fences (laughter) or walls or whatever they are?

BURNETT: (Laughter) Well, these are going to be expensive, significant expenditures. You know, the wall could be, you know, $5, $10, $15 billion. New agents are expensive. More detention space for deportees is expensive. You've got to sign those contracts with the private prison companies for tens of millions of dollars or build your own. So this will take an appropriation from Congress.

SIEGEL: Other things to expect from Trump on immigration...

BURNETT: Well, Robert, the big piece that he did mention is what happens with the dreamers, the DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. These are some 750,000 young people who were brought here as children by their undocumented parents. Obama gave them work permits and protection from deportation.

Trump said in the campaign he was going to cancel Obama's order on DACA, but now he's soft pedaling. Sean Spicer said at the White House briefing today, the president's still working on DACA. He's a family man. He's going after criminals, criminal aliens, not families.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR's John Burnett. Thanks.

BURNETT: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.