Personnel with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and with Customs and Border Protection are being directed by the Biden administration to stop using the terms “illegal alien” and “assimilation.”
Chad Wolf, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former acting secretary of homeland security in President Donald Trump’s administration, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss that and other aspects of the illegal immigration crisis at the southern border under President Joe Biden.
We also cover these stories:
- The Food and Drug Administration is expected to allow 12- to 15-year-olds to get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for the first time.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., admits Tuesday that Republican members of the House lack confidence in the House Republican Conference chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney, amid an ongoing rift between the Wyoming congresswoman and Trump.
- House Republicans are asking their Senate Republican colleagues to vote against confirming David Chipman, Biden’s choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on The Daily Signal by Chad Wolf. He’s a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former acting secretary of homeland security. Chad, it’s great to have you on The Daily Signal.
Chad Wolf: Well, great. Thanks for having me.
Del Guidice: What is your perspective on what’s happening at the border right now? We’ve seen a lot happen in only about four months since Jan. 20, when President [Joe] Biden was inaugurated. So what’s your perspective on what we’re seeing?
Wolf: Well, it’s truly a crisis that we see on the border today. And it’s disheartening for those of us that served under President [Donald] Trump over the last four years, trying to get that border in order, trying to put a number of policies and procedures in place that, at the end of the day, enforced an immigration consequence to those who came across the border illegally.
So what you have today is back to the “catch and release” policy, failed catch and release policies that we’ve seen over the years. Unfortunately, that doesn’t serve anyone here in the U.S. or the communities along that border. It makes law enforcement’s job more difficult at the end of the day as well.
So not real excited about what I see on the border, and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.
Del Guidice: The Biden administration has asked both [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and [Customs and Border Protection] to stop using the term “illegal alien.” What’s behind this and what kind of terminology, in your opinion, should be used?
Wolf: Yeah. Well, again, this is just another set of their misguided attention. Their focus should be on securing the border instead of … wordsmithing certain phrases and terminology.
When we talk about aliens or illegal aliens, those are actually terms used in federal law. So it’s not a matter of anyone making up the terms, or [the Department of Homeland Security] or CBP making up those terms. That’s actual wording in statute that Congress has passed.
It’s very simple how we use it because there are various different types of folks that come into the country, illegal aliens vs. aliens, vs. U.S. citizens, and they all have a different connotation because they all require different rules and procedures to them. So simply calling everyone one term is going to be not only extremely confusing, it just turns on the head of decades of immigration law.
So again, the priorities should not be on, “How do we make people feel better by calling them a different name?” Their attention should actually be focused on trying to fix the crisis that’s currently on the border.
Del Guidice: I think a lot of people are asking across this country, especially when they’re seeing news and everything else, is, “Does the Biden administration have a border policy?” Do they? What is your perspective and opinion?
Wolf: Well, I think they do. I think it’s one that’s extremely ill-conceived and does nothing for the security of the homeland. I mean, their policy at the moment is, again, reverting back to that catch and release policy that we’ve talked about.
So the idea is to let everyone into the U.S. that is claiming asylum, give them a free ticket into the interior, hope that they show up for their immigration court proceedings—which we know they don’t do, based on historical data—and that’s their policy at the end of the day.
They’ll talk about how they’re removing families and how they’re doing this and that, but they’re doing that in such low numbers that it’s having a negligible effect.
So whether we see it from family units or minors, their policy right now is obviously the catch and release, but it’s also encouraging these folks to take a very dangerous journey from the Northern Triangle up here to the U.S., knowing, again, that 90% of them don’t qualify for asylum and therefore will have to be removed at some future point.
So what has the Biden administration done on that part? They’ve restricted ICE’s ability to remove individuals that are here illegally as well. So it’s very troubling. If you’re a law enforcement officer at the department these days, your hands are tied, you can’t do your job, and you can’t enforce immigration law at the end of the day.
Del Guidice: Something you commented on Twitter about was this ABC News report. And it was headlined something like “‘Unbearable’ Conditions Push Biden Administration to Close Houston Migrant Center.” What’s your perspective on what’s happening here? Why did the center close and what was your reaction to that?
Wolf: Sure. I think it’s a symptom of, they have broken the system. We had 172,000 illegal apprehensions in the month of March alone. Usually that’s a four- to five-, maybe even a six-month period where you get that many illegal apprehensions. They had that in one month alone.
So you have this historic surge of children and families going into shelters. They’ve run out of shelter space, capacity, so they’re increasing shelters at a rapid, rapid pace. And when you do that, you have to go outside the system, so you’re looking at shelters that don’t have any federal oversight, that may not be the best from a condition standpoint.
That’s what occurred in this case, in the Houston case, is they opened up a shelter and then they quickly had to close it because it didn’t meet standards, and it was pretty bad at the end of the day.
And again, when we talk about what we did under the Trump administration versus this administration, I think the hypocrisy that we see in the news media, mainly in the news media and others, is if this would have occurred in the last four years, you would have seen any number of members of Congress down there, press would have been swarming the area. Instead it was a one-day story and it’s gone away, and it’s unfortunate.
Del Guidice: Vice President Kamala Harris has been appointed as the point person for the border crisis. She hasn’t yet gone to the border. What’s your perspective on what she’s doing? Because nothing’s happened yet. So what’s your perspective on what should happen?
Wolf: It’s another missed opportunity from the administration to actually get serious about the crisis that’s occurring on the border. So she keeps talking about how her role is more higher level, talking to the Northern Triangle countries about root causes of migration, and I think that’s OK, but that’s a two-, three-, four-year problem, maybe even longer.
What she needs to do or what the president needs to do is actually go down to the border, talk to the law enforcement, the men and women that are doing that border, the folks that are interviewing the asylum-seekers, the folks that are processing the medical folks, and to understand and hear from them firsthand the difficulties and challenges that they’re having on the border. It’s only then do you really understand the magnitude of the situation.
And then you can talk to Mexico. You can talk to our foreign partners about how to resolve this. But if you have no context and you have none of those discussions, it’s very hard to represent the U.S. in this crisis when you’re talking to a foreign country.
Del Guidice: Something else that really isn’t being talked about too, what’s the financial cost to the taxpayer when it comes to all of these immigrants coming in, and health care, and other things that are incurred? What does that cost look like for the average American?
Wolf: I would bucket these into two different costs. One are the immediate costs. So there’s a tremendous amount of resources right now that we’re throwing at the problem, and that’s a capacity problem. [The] Biden administration, instead of enforcing the law on the border, they simply are opening up more and more centers. And as you do that, you have to pay.
The federal government’s paying [nongovernmental organizations] and private contractors to continue to open up more and more facilities. They wouldn’t have to do that if they would address the surge, what’s causing the crisis. They don’t want to do that, so they’re spending more and more money.
And then, of course, the long-term effect is, what does this do for health care and education? All of these unaccompanied alien children will go into U.S. school systems, will go [into] health care systems, the family units that are being released. Is there a welfare impact?
So there’s short-term and then there’s sort of longer society impacts as well.
Del Guidice: You mentioned when the migrants come in, a lot of them are given a court date. A lot of times they don’t show up for that court date. So where are these migrants being released to? Is it just in border areas or is it anywhere in the country?
Wolf: Yeah. So, I would actually back up. What we’ve heard from the Biden administration is they’re not even issuing court dates any longer in places in Texas because they’re so overwhelmed.
What they would normally give them is a “notice to appear,” what we call an NTA, which is to say, “We’re going to release you into the interior, but you need to show up at this specific court on this date, on this time, and then we’ll start the immigration proceedings.”
Because they’re so overwhelmed with the number of folks, they’re not even issuing that. They’re simply opening the door, saying, “Please return to a court near you, wherever you go.” Well, we know they’re not going to do that. They have no incentive to do that at the end of the day because no one’s tracking them. No one knows where they’re at. So it’s very, very disconcerting.
But again, what we do know is the ones that do show up, they may show up for their first court case, but this is usually several steps in the process. They don’t show up for latter court dates, which is very problematic. And then where are they going?
What we say is every community in America is a border community because the traffic or the illegal activity doesn’t just stop at the border. It doesn’t stop in McAllen or Tucson or San Diego. It goes everywhere.
So a lot of these folks that are coming in and being released are going to every major metropolitan city across the country. Detroit, Dallas, Chicago, New York. You name it, they’re traveling there.
Del Guidice: Who’s paying for the travel of those who cross the border? Is it their families? Is it the government in some cases? How does that work out?
Wolf: It’s a combination of both. What we see, again, in this administration, because they have let contracts here recently, the federal government’s paying more and more of those expenses. They usually do that indirectly. So we’ll give contracts out to NGOs for quote-unquote “humanitarian assistance,” and that sometimes goes toward transportation costs.
So at the end of the day, the federal government becomes that last link in that human smuggling chain because they are reuniting, whether it’s a child or a family, with relatives here in the country, and that’s exactly what the smugglers are counting on. That’s how they continue to advertise. They advertise, “If we get you to the U.S., the federal government will finish our process and will unite you with your parents or your relatives.”
Del Guidice: So in some cases, is the government deciding where these people are sent? Or is it always the families and those who are coming across the border?
Wolf: Yeah. Usually they’ll come into either Border Patrol facilities or [Department of Health and Human Services] facilities, but mainly Border Patrol, and then they’ll be released. They’ll usually be released to an NGO in El Paso or McAllen or wherever they crossed the border.
And then the NGO will talk to them and say, “Do you have family here?” And almost all of them have some type of family somewhere, whether it’s in Los Angeles, it’s in Seattle. Again, pick your major metropolitan city. And they’ll say, “Here’s a phone number.” And then the NGO calls, and then they try to figure out how to get them to that location.
Del Guidice: When it comes to the national security impact of the situation at the border right now, how prevalent would you say are foreign nationals from other countries, despite Mexico and Central America? So other countries, are they coming in and how frequent is that?
Wolf: Absolutely. I would say every day Border Patrol apprehends anywhere from 25 to 35 different nationalities. Obviously, the Northern Triangle and Mexico are the largest that they see, but there’s folks from Cuba, there’s folks from Central Africa, and others that they pick up and apprehend.
So when we talk about the security on the border, obviously there’s a humanitarian crisis that we see today, but there’s also a security aspect to that because the more and more people that get into Border Patrol stations, the more and more agents DHS has to pull off the line and put them in those stations to care for those migrants, to feed the migrants, to do a lot of hand-holding, that we say. And so they’re not on the border actually doing their national security mission.
So today you have between 5,000 and 6,000 illegal apprehensions a day that’s occurring on that southwest border. You probably have another 1,000 to 1,200 what we call “got aways.”
Those are folks that we don’t have the personnel, and we never see, and they slip in, they go into the interior of the country. The question is, we don’t know who they are, so they could just be illegal migrants looking for economic opportunities or they could be more nefarious. They could be some bad actors, but we just don’t know who they are.
Del Guidice: When you hear the rhetoric that walls are immoral and that having some sort of immigration system, that that’s immoral, that’s wrong, that’s not welcoming, we’ve heard that in different places, what is your response to that?
Wolf: I think it’s absurd. The whole idea of a country, of a nation, is to have a border, and you have to enforce that border. Otherwise, you’re letting anyone and everyone in, and then we’re not a country of the rule of law. That’s how the country was founded. It’s how we should remain.
And you disincentivize folks coming here the right way, the legal way, where they go through a process, they get vetted, they come into the U.S., and if you don’t have some integrity in that process, meaning that you keep out folks that come here illegally, and if there’s no integrity there, then there’s no incentive, and then the whole structure breaks down.
So this idea that borders are immoral, that we should let in everyone, that’s not how the country works. It’s not the rule of law.
And then I would say, when we talk about a border wall system, I would encourage anyone who’s against it to come down here and talk to the men and women who actually have to patrol the border. And they will tell you—I’ve talked to thousands of them over the years, every single one, I haven’t met one that doesn’t want an effective border wall system. It helps them do their job better.
So as we look at our military and we give them the best tools and equipment to fight our battles overseas, we should do the same to the Border Patrol and the men and women of DHS. We should listen to what they need and then give them what they need. President Trump was very good at that. And what we’ve seen, unfortunately, with the Biden administration is they’re ignoring law enforcement and they’re making political decisions with the security of the homeland.
Del Guidice: On a more personal note, as someone who worked in the Trump administration to develop border policy, seeing what’s happened in the course, as we said, over a couple of months, is it frustrating to you? How do you respond when you see everything you did?
Wolf: Sure. It’s not only frustrating, it’s disheartening, and it’s something that didn’t have to happen.
I’ve talked with Border Patrol officers, agents, and officials since I’ve left, and they are beside themselves. They can’t believe that all the work that we had accomplished over the last several years has just been undone in a matter of weeks, following Inauguration Day here in January. And they are so frustrated with it.
And they hear their leadership, whether it’s coming from the leadership of the department or the White House, and I quote, says that, “The border is secure. The border is closed.” And they know, because they work it every day, they know that’s a lie.
When you have 6,000 people coming across the border illegally, you have another 1,200 that they never even catch because it’s overwhelming, of course the border is not secure. Of course it’s not closed. So when you have leadership saying that line to the American public on national television and anywhere else, you start to lose the confidence of law enforcement. And once that happens, it’s very, very dangerous.
Del Guidice: What needs to be done to turn around the situation at the border?
Wolf: Well, there’s a couple of different things. I don’t think the Biden administration will do any of them, but there’s a couple of things.
Obviously, you can finish construction of the border wall system. You can reinstitute what we call our Migrant Protection Protocols, which are individuals that are seeking asylum here in the U.S., they wait in Mexico until their court proceeding date is upon us. Title 42 for [unaccompanied alien children]. We can turn those individuals around as well.
And again, we’re not just turning them around back into the desert, as President Biden—actually, that was a quote. We’ve never done that. So I’m not sure where he’s getting his information. We would actually turn them around, put them on airplanes, and send them back to the Northern Triangle, reunite them with their family at the end of the day.
And then our asylum cooperative agreements were actually working, so I would encourage them to reinstitute those as well.
Del Guidice: Looking at the big picture, what kind of risk does the country run in total, as well as for your children, grandchildren, if this immigration situation isn’t turned around?
Wolf: I think, at the end of the day, we continue, and we’ve seen bills here in the House of Representatives just recently talking about amnesty, talking about amnesty for [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], and then a few other populations.
… If we don’t fix border security, and we don’t close some of these loopholes that we know the cartels and the smugglers and the traffickers are taking advantage of, we’ll be back here in five to six years from now talking about amnesty for all the thousands and perhaps millions of folks that entered the country in 2021.
Mark my word. In five years, we’ll have members of Congress talking about, “We need to provide these folks amnesty.” And that just can’t be the way that the immigration system works. You can’t continue to do this year over year over year.
You have to enforce your border, you have to enforce the law, and then you have to remove individuals that have no legal right to be here. And that’s it at the end of the day.
Del Guidice: Former Secretary Wolf, thank you for being with us on The Daily Signal. It’s great to have you.
Wolf: All right. Thanks again.