White House de­fends plan to close bor­der

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY KATIE ROGERS

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA.

Mick Mul­vaney, the act­ing White House chief of staff, de­fended Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threat to end as­sis­tance to three Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries and to close parts of the U.S. bor­der with Mex­ico this week, say­ing on Sun­day that it would take “some­thing dra­matic” to pre­vent Trump from car­ry­ing out that plan.

“Why are we talk­ing about closing the bor­der?” Mul­vaney said in an in­ter­view on ABC’s “This Week.” “Not to try and undo what’s hap­pen­ing, but sim­ply to say, ‘look we need the peo­ple from the ports of en­try to go out and pa­trol in the desert where we don’t have a wall.’”

Trump’s at­tempt to seal off the bor­der by build­ing a wall, and mulling the clo­sure of ports to tamp down on im­mi­gra­tion and drug smug­gling, is at odds with a nag­ging re­al­ity: Smug­gling ac­tiv­ity largely comes through ports of en­try, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment data. And the pres­i­dent’s move to cut off aid to Gu­atemala, Hon­duras and El Sal­vador ig­nores a long­stand­ing strat­egy touted by aid groups and mil­i­tary ex­perts – in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s for­mer chief of staff – that sup­port­ing those coun­tries ac­tu­ally makes the bor­der safer.

Still, Trump spent the past week em­bold­ened by the re­sults of his at­tor­ney gen­eral’s sum­mary of a re­port by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller that said that he and his cam­paign had not co­op­er­ated with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment. The pres­i­dent im­me­di­ately turned back to im­mi­gra­tion as a red-meat is­sue for sup­port­ers be­fore the 2020 elec­tion.

“I’m not play­ing games,” he told re­porters dur­ing a week­end in Florida, which fol­lowed a week spent be­rat­ing the Demo­cratic Party for what he called lax im­mi­gra­tion laws, as­sail­ing coun­tries he has ac­cused of do­ing lit­tle to stop the flow of mi­grants trav­el­ing north, and dis­parag­ing in­di­vid­ual trav­el­ers seek­ing asy­lum as part of a “big fat con job.”

In the in­ter­view, Mul­vaney crit­i­cized Jeh John­son, who led the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, for say­ing in a re­cent in­ter­view that the sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der was “truly in a cri­sis.” In Fe­bru­ary, 76,000 mi­grants were ap­pre­hended cross­ing the bor­der – an 11-year high – and the cross­ings are ex­pected to in­crease again in March.

“We hate to say we told you so,” Mul­vaney said. “We need bor­der se­cu­rity, and we’re go­ing to do the best we can with what we have.”

In re­cent weeks, Bor­der Pa­trol fa­cil­i­ties along the south­west­ern bor­der have been strained to a break­ing point by

the largest in­flux of mi­grants in years. The num­bers are grow­ing, in part, be­cause trav­el­ers are hop­ing to make the jour­ney north be­fore sum­mer­time. Of­fi­cials in El Paso, Texas, re­sorted to cre­at­ing a makeshift en­camp­ment un­der a bridge last week when the main bor­der pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity in the area was strained to 400 per­cent of its ca­pac­ity.

A full or par­tial seal­ing of the bor­der would ef­fec­tively close off the United States from one of its largest trad­ing part­ners, and it could leave Amer­i­can cit­i­zens who cross back and forth with a slug­gish or po­ten­tially nonex­is­tent sys­tem of re­turn­ing to the United States. Trump will travel to Calex­ico, Cal­i­for­nia, to tour the bor­der on Fri­day.

Kirst­jen Nielsen, the home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, said in a state­ment on Fri­day that she had asked vol­un­teers to add more sup­port at the bor­der, and sug­gested that Amer­i­can cit­i­zens may en­counter dif­fi­culty get­ting through as a re­sult.

And by di­rect­ing the State Depart­ment to re­voke aid from the three North­ern Tri­an­gle coun­tries, Trump is seek­ing to pun­ish those coun­tries for what he says is a fail­ure to stop mi­grant car­a­vans from mak­ing their way north.

Lead­ers of those coun­tries have said they are com­mit­ted to solv­ing the prob­lem, de­spite what Trump has said. In 2017, the United States gave $420 mil­lion to Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries strug­gling with vi­o­lence. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Global Lead­er­ship Coali­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that sup­ports diplomatic ef­forts of the United States, the North­ern Tri­an­gle coun­tries com­mit­ted about 10 times that amount, or $5.4 bil­lion, to im­prove con­di­tions.

“Amer­i­can aid to Cen­tral Amer­ica is not char­ity, but an in­vest­ment in our na­tional se­cu­rity,” Liz Schrayer, pres­i­dent of the coali­tion, said in a state­ment. “The idea of sus­pend­ing the relatively small, but essential for­eign as­sis­tance to the re­gion will only ex­ac­er­bate the root causes driv­ing peo­ple to flee their homes – bru­tal vi­o­lence, hunger and in­sta­bil­ity.”

In an in­ter­view with Jake Tap­per on CNN’s “State of the Union,” who pointed out to him that ex­perts within the pres­i­dent’s own ad­min­is­tra­tion have said aid money has helped curb vi­o­lence in and mi­gra­tion from El Sal­vador, Mul­vaney shrugged off the data from “ca­reer staffers” and said the money had not done enough.

“If we’re go­ing to give th­ese coun­tries hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, we would like them to do more,” he said. “If it’s work­ing so well why are the peo­ple still com­ing?”

Mul­vaney’s com­ments rep­re­sent a right­ward shift for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that has al­ready taken a pub­licly hard-line stance on im­mi­gra­tion. In May 2017, John F. Kelly, the pres­i­dent’s for­mer chief of staff and for­mer top of­fi­cer of the mil­i­tary’s South­ern Com­mand, said dur­ing an At­lantic Coun­cil meet­ing that his ex­pe­ri­ence showed him that part­ner­ing with North­ern Tri­an­gle coun­tries was key to se­cur­ing the bor­der.

“If we can im­prove the con­di­tions – the lot of life of Hon­durans, Gu­atemalans, Cen­tral Amer­i­cans,” said Kelly, then speak­ing in his ca­pac­ity as home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary, “we can do an aw­ful lot to pro­tect the south­west bor­der.”

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