CMSOnAir features an interview with Ron Nixon, a Washington correspondent for the New York Times who covers homeland security issues, including immigration, border and aviation security; cyber security and cyber crime, counterterrorism and violent extremism. Mr. Nixon has reported from Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Belgium, Mexico, Malaysia, Senegal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also teaches investigative reporting and data journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Mr. Nixon is author of the book Selling Apartheid: Apartheid South Africa’s Global Propaganda War.
Among other topics in this episode, Mr. Nixon and Donald Kerwin, CMS’s executive director, discuss Donald Trump’s executive orders, immigration enforcement at the US-Mexico border, and the Department of Homeland Security (which at the time of this interview was still headed by Secretary John Kelly who replaced Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff on July 31, 2017).
Rachel Reyes: Welcome to CMSOnAir – The podcast on migration, refugee and population issues brought to you by the Center for Migration Studies of New York. This is Rachel Reyes, CMS’s director of communications. This episode features an interview with Ron Nixon a Washington correspondent for the New York Times who covers homeland security issues. Ron has reported from Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Belgium, Mexico, Malaysia, Senegal, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also teaches investigative reporting and data journalism at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Ron is author of the book Selling Apartheid: South Africa’s Global Propaganda War. Among other topics in this episode, Ron and Donald Kerwin, CMS’s executive director, discuss Donald Trump’s executive orders, immigration enforcement at the US-Mexico border, and the Department of Homeland Security (which at the time of this interview was still headed by John Kelly who replaced Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff on July 31, 2017).
Donald Kerwin: Ron, thanks for being with us, we appreciate you taking the time to meet with us. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what you cover at the New York Times and some of your background as well.
Ron Nixon: Sure, first off, thanks for having me! I am the homeland security correspondent for the New York Times. I cover department of homeland security, all things border security, aviation security, counter terrorism, immigration, cybersecurity, cybercrime, so, all of those things emergency management, that fall within the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security is what I cover.
Donald Kerwin: We can start talking about the travel bans, I think because they are on a lot of people’s minds right now, and the Supreme Court has come out with a little bit of decision, where the grandchildren and cousins are actually exempt from the travel ban, which I think is interesting, but I want to back up a little bit, back to 9/11. The theme after that was that intelligence gathering, information sharing, screening, those had to be top national security priorities, and the US was supposed to be at the point by now actually – was supposed to already been here many years ago – of having sufficient intelligence and screening mechanisms in place so we didn’t need to suspend immigration from persons of particular nationalities or religions. I guess my question is, are we at that point, and if not, why not?
Ron Nixon: Well, I think it depends on who you talk to. If you are talking to a lot of people in the intelligence community, they will tell you that our capabilities are much more refined than they were around the period immediately after 9/11, and that you don’t have to target specific countries. But we have enough capacity to be able to screen people, so you look at the risks of people individually, rather than say, “these people are from these countries, so we need to ban them until we can figure out if they pose a threat.” There are a number of things that the US has in place, like visa security system, that ICE runs (Immigration Customs Enforcement) their Homeland Security Investigation runs a visa security system, where people get screened when they are applying for their visas. The same thing that the State Department Diplomatic Security special agents do the bulk of the screening – social media, all those things are screened before people get there. Just to throw in something, it is extremely difficult for people to get here from some countries, anyways, even now. If you are from certain countries your chances of getting a visa to the US, are in some cases almost impossible. So, what the Trump administration is saying is, we need a pause so we can vet these places and see if the people that are coming are who they say they are, but that’s already in place in these countries, and the question then becomes “if these things are in place what more do you need?” Because, obviously if people don’t have credentials you are not going to let them into the country, they aren’t going to be able to get a visa.
Donald Kerwin: So, what is the additional vetting that is needed at this point? Because I thought we were already doing extreme vetting.
Ron Nixon: So, that is the question. I am not sure, at least I have not been given a clear-cut answer on what extreme vetting means, because in addition to all those things I mentioned to you before, the actual tracking system that is run by Customs and Border Protection; when you book your ticket, they know a lot about you before you even get on plane. With some of the enhancement that was done to the visa waiver system under the Obama administration with a Republican Congress, there is more information sharing between those countries, that we have people that don’t need a visa to get here, but there is more information sharing from other places like Iraq. Iraq was one of the original seven countries and now it’s six countries because Iraq agreed to do all of these things. Again, I don’t know what the additional steps that are needed, there is a report that has been done and has been given to the White House, but it has not been made public.
Donald Kerwin: I was confused about Iraq too because if you look at the infiltration of terrorist through the refugee programs, the two cases that are documented over the last decade are Iraqis. Then Secretary Kelly then comes out and says that it’s because Iraq now effectively screens its own people for admission. I wonder if that’s valid, and I wonder about that rationale. Since when does the US cede its security to other nations? I wouldn’t imagine that they would say that for certain countries.
Ron Nixon: It doesn’t cede its security to other nations, particularly for vetting and screening people coming to this country. I am not sure where that statement is coming from, of what he meant by that, because again, what you hear is that we need this extreme vetting. The US has a vetting system that is unlike any other vetting system in the world, so I am not sure how much more extreme you can get other than perhaps not letting anybody into the country. Because you do have all of these things in place, that should if they are working, should not allow anybody in this country who does not need to be here.
Donald Kerwin: I think you may have reported on a government security report that said there are 26 nations whose nationals were quote, “inspired to carry out attacks in the United States.” Is that true?
Ron Nixon: Yeah, there was a report a few months ago, that came out and did say that.
Donald Kerwin: So you wonder why the six and not the 26, and actually I wonder why the six at all, since as you pointed out there is already extreme vetting and they know who’s coming in generally.
Ron Nixon: Well they point, sorry the Trump administration, points to saying, the six countries were picked by the Obama administration, which is sort of true. These were countries that were actually picked by Congress as supportive of terrorism, so the Obama administration signed the legislation putting it into effect, but it didn’t really pick them. It was a combination of a Republican Congress and the Obama administration. It is still a mystery to why those countries, and there are various theories that are floating out there. But, when you look at a lot of terrorist attacks that have happened, particularly in Europe, most of those people have been nationals of those countries, and not people who are people that are coming there to do the country harm through refugee programs, but these are people that are nationals.
Donald Kerwin: Do you have any predictions or a sense of how the Supreme Court is going to come out in this case?
Ron Nixon: I don’t. You have a new justice that more or less maintains the conservative balance, but presidents have been given wide latitude in the area of immigration, so it is hard to say which way that they will go.
Donald Kerwin: It is interesting though that their instructions, or one of the statements was that the extreme vetting measures ought to be in effect by the time the case comes before them.
Ron Nixon: Right, right, this would render any decision moot then. Because you have this time and there was an injunction put in place, but now by the time the ruling actually comes down, you will have exceeded the time you said you needed to do the extreme vetting. So, both sides claim victory in the decision.
Donald Kerwin: Kind of going to the US Mexico border, I know you spend a lot time and are an expert on that. I want to first talk about the border wall, and the reaction of the Border Patrol itself to some of the ideas for the wall. As I understand it, some of them are opposing a certain kind of wall, if you could talk about what their rationale is?
Ron Nixon: So, the Border Patrol when they talk about what is needed, they talk about it in terms of legs; and they talk about technology, physical barriers, and people. Technology are things like censors, cameras, and drones, which gives them situational awareness of what is happening. In terms of physical barriers, they don’t speak so much of walls, but in terms of fencing, vehicles, anything that will impede the progress of people long enough for that third leg to happen, which is to pick them up. So, if you are in urban areas like Nogales, Arizona, or San Diego, California, then yes, you do need physical barriers because you have all of those people there. But, physical barriers like walls don’t make sense in some places. Border Patrol is not advocating for a 2,000-mile-long concrete wall that is 30- to 55-foot-high, because one, they do want to see what is happening in the other side of the wall, or fence, or the border. What the Border Patrol suggest is something that both Democrats and Republicans have agreed on. When the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed, you had bipartisan support for that. When you talk to the agents, and the supervisory agents and folks who are in charge, that is what they say that they need, but only in certain areas.
Donald Kerwin: And they recognize that the congressional mandates of no unlawful entry or the aspirations, and that is one that the president picked up in his executive order that that’s not going to happen, so how do you measure success?
Ron Nixon: That’s a good question, and a question I have put to Border Patrol and other people who study this issue, former DHS people. What I’ve asked them is, what do you mean by a secure border? What does it look like? Does it mean no one will come across the border? Which is obviously impossible to do? Does it mean you know what is going on in the border, like situational awareness? You get various answers as to what that means, and different administrations have different views on what that means. So, I am not sure if there is one particular answer as to what a secure border would be for certain people. I mean obviously, some people will say, “no one should come across the border,” well, obviously, that’s not going to happen. You have a 2,000-mile border with two countries that have a long history, particular those regions where people have moved back and forth for centuries.
Donald Kerwin: And most of the newly unauthorized are not border-crossers anyways.
Ron Nixon: No, most of the newly unauthorized folks are people who overstay their visas, which is an issue that they have struggled to deal with.
Donald Kerwin: There are a lot of reports that migrants and I take it others – drug smugglers, and others that intend to do harm on the United States, or bad actors of different kinds – can simply enter by ports of entry if they pay the right people, the fear of corruption. Why isn’t that problem more publicized? Why isn’t that a greater priority? That seems to me to be more of a threat than someone trying to cross at a barren desert.
Ron Nixon: Right, I think there is a recognition that this happens, albeit it it’s a small number of people within the Department of Homeland Security. Late last year, I did a story of corruption within basically a 10-year period, about 200 people, working as contractors with DHS, took 15 million in bribes that we could track, for everything from drug smuggling to letting people across. I do think that there has been a recognition that they do need to strengthen their public integrity, strengthen their Internal Affairs Division, or OPR – Officer Personal Responsibility – now. One of the things though, is that when you look at the proposed budget cuts, the Inspector General Office will have fewer people, but the Inspector General Office is the first responder so to speak, for corruption cases. And there is a proposal to hire 15,000 more people, so you are going to have that many more people with fewer people to actually police what they are doing. I don’t think it has gotten the kind of coverage that it has, because one, it hasn’t always been seen as a problem with the US side. Corruption has always been thought of as being endemic with the Mexican force, but we never have, I say we, “we” as a society, don’t really think about our border officials in that way.
Donald Kerwin: Are you finding that there is a critical mass of border residents who are resenting and opposing the kind of surveillance that they are under? Those that cross regularly, for example? Because, obviously, the president has touted the militarization of the border, and this enforcement takes place in the United States and US communities.
Ron Nixon: It is tough to get a sense of that, because I am not there every day, obviously, but just from people that I talk to, you get the sense in some ways that it’s normal. That aero stat that’s in the air, is just there, and so it just blends in after a while, the license plate readers and all those other things. It is just there. So, after a while it just becomes part of the landscape and you don’t really notice it. Obviously, there has been issues raised by the Texas Civil Rights Project, I believe is one of the groups that have talked a little bit about this. The ACLU in that region, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas has talked about this. Just in talking to people day to day, and again I haven’t done surveys or polls, but just in the people I have talked to, I don’t want to speak for everyone, it’s just something’s that’s there, you just see it and it blends into the background.
Donald Kerwin: Has the searches of electronic devices raised particular issues for people? It seems that that has gotten a little bit more attention.
Ron Nixon: It has, but the thing about the searches of electronic devices is that this is something that has been ongoing for years. I think the awareness has been raised of it because you have a president who has talked more about border security, immigration and crackdowns, but when you look at border searches in general, the last year for the Obama administration was fairly high. I don’t remember the numbers off the top of my head. But, that didn’t start under the Trump administration it is something that has been in existent for a while. I think there is more awareness simply because you have someone that has made this an issue, or the issue for his particular campaign.
Donald Kerwin: You reported recently on officials on the port of entry in Hidalgo that found $250,000 hidden in outbound car, and this is a big part of the border story that gets under-reported sometimes, which is that the firearms and the drug proceeds are heading from the US to Mexico, and they ultimately result in terrorized populations in Mexico and the flight of migrants to the United States. So, a couple of questions: one is, are sufficient resources being devoted to interception of drugs and monies going south? And the second one is, that it seems like we’ve heard Secretary Kelly understands this dynamic and speaks about it, do US enforcement priorities seem to follow suit?
Ron Nixon: The first thing is in terms of interdiction, their priority; well they are both related. When I talk to CBP, Fernanda Santos, who’s formally the New York Times’s Phoenix correspondent, she and I did a story about all the money that is flowing south into Mexico. As you mentioned, this fuels a lot of the issues that we deal with, with the migrants coming here from Central America primarily because the money and guns flowing to those areas. There are some attempts to interdict them, but the priority is; what’s coming in, not what’s going out. They do have these surges. I witnessed one in Lukeville, Arizona. I witnessed one in Hidalgo port of entry, at the far port of entry, in the same region in South Texas where they were looking at money going out, trying to find money going out. The car that you mentioned, money hidden in the bumper, but that’s not the bulk of the resources is to track things coming in, drugs coming in. So, yes Secretary Kelly has a grasp of this, he was one of the reasons we did that particular story because he had mentioned it so many times, but again you don’t see a shift in making resources available to interdict that money going out. Now there are some things that are in place, like Joint Task Force West, was set up by former Secretary Jeh Johnson based on the militaries and task force where you have all the military component in one place where they utilize what they do best, so things aren’t stovepipes. Same things with these things, where they are looking at tracking trying to destroy the network, and not so much go after people, but destroy the money launders, and all the other ways that people get money there. And ICE has the Bulk Cash Transfer Center in Vermont that tracks this stuff, and there a number of other things, but for the most part, priorities are to stop things from coming into the country.
Donald Kerwin: I want to just talk a little bit a little more about corruption, because you have as you’ve pointed out, major hiring that is being proposed in the budget, I think 1,000 new ICE personnel, 500 new Border Patrol agents, and I guess a preliminary question before we get to the corruption question is, are they going to be able to do that given the attrition? Are they going to be able to bring that many on? And they are talking about actually waiving the polygraph for some of the corruption tests that they do, and isn’t it predictable that there will be more corruption down the road? Haven’t we been down this path before after fast hiring, large-scale hirings?
Ron Nixon: Let me jump back to the hiring, I am not sure that they will be, because they do struggle to do this because there are a couple of things that happen with the hiring. One, unlike ICE agents right, where ICE agents can be in Los Angeles, they can be in DC, they can be in New York City. There are no Border Patrol agents in New York City, so you’re going to be in places where not a lot of people want to be, Border Patrol are in small towns, and in a lot of places where there’s not much to do. It is pretty demanding, in terms of being out there by yourself, and to be perfectly honest, really dangerous because you are out there by yourself, and you have competition from other agencies, where, ‘why would I want to do that, if I could go be secret service, or go be FBI or something.’ Or even ICE. Border Patrol loses people to ICE. One because ICE doesn’t have the polygraph test that you mentioned. Now this test was mandated in 2010, because the growing awareness in corruption within Border Patrol in particular, so what they have done now is shifted towards going a different kind of polygraph. The guy who actually set up this program, James Tomshek, set up the program at Customs Border Protection said that that is dangerous because the new test is a test for espionage, not a test for corruption. That isn’t really espionage, if you help someone smuggle cocaine across, well, that isn’t really espionage. So, he has shown where these tests have actually caught people who were purposely trying to infiltrate Border Patrol, and they managed to weed people out. He thinks it could be dangerous since they’ve changed the test he thinks there is a greater possibility that that is going to happen, because again the drug cartels have millions of dollars at their disposal, and obviously if they can corrupt someone they will. Given the numbers that you are talking about, the last time you saw a surge like this, you did see, end result was there were lots of cases of corruption. So, I think that that is a concern and that is a concern within CBP (Customs and Border Protection), but they seem to think they made some modifications to this new polygraph that it will still be able to weed out people but speed up the process for hiring people. I don’t know if that is going to be the case, I know Mr. Tomsheck, the guy who set this whole thing up, is really concerned about that.
Donald Kerwin: Yes, I was surprised to see in Secretary Kelly’s report that the process takes 400 something days, and that they are starting with a bit of deficit in terms of numbers, I mean it’s 19,000 something, it’s not what is budgeted.
Ron Nixon: Right, what is budgeted is 21,000, so they are already at a deficit and if you hire these, in some ways catching up to what Congress has mandated as your ceiling, and plus you still are going to have attrition. A lot of the people that go and work for customs, they change the green for the blue because it’s better hours and you do your shift and you get to go home, and with Border Patrol that is not the case.
Donald Kerwin: We are hearing, and there was a lawsuit that was filled over the last couple of weeks, of violations of the requirement that border officials are supposed to be referring people who request asylum or express a fear of violence or persecution in their home countries, to a credible fear interview by the asylum officers. They can then put them in removal proceedings or they can ask for political asylum that that is being disregarded wholesale in certain places. There have been commissions that have reported on that happening as well. So, that is happening but it seems like, one effect of the creation of DHS has been that immigration enforcement agents have less of an appreciation of the benefits, the immigration benefits and the protection side of the agency than they used to when it was in the Immigration and Naturalization Services and everybody was together, and if that is true, I guess the question is they are given more protection responsibilities, that is one of their responsibilities, how can you change that culture? And if you can’t, does it make sense to vest any protection responsibility in CBP and ICE agents who don’t view their jobs as involving that?
Ron Nixon: I mean that’s a difficult question because, again I know of this, I haven’t seen it myself, but I do know and have heard reports of this happening. I think that Border Patrol agents and ICE agents have been given more power in a lot of ways and things have been ceded to them, whereas in the past it was referred to attorneys at ICE or someplace who would chime in and make a decision where now it’s the agents that have the prosecutorial discretion to do whatever. You have a president who has laid out in an executive order what his priorities are and did a piece on the DHS being largely focused on immigration. But one of the things Leon Panetta, the former CIA Director, and Secretary of Defense said, John Kelly is following orders, he was a marine and he is just following orders. I think a large part of that is simply coming from the president himself, and people aren’t clear if they can do things that they would think contradict what the president’s priorities are.
Donald Kerwin: Are you seeing any signs of decreased cooperation at the border from Mexico as a result of some of the rhetoric or some of the enforcement policies?
Ron Nixon: There is grumbling but I haven’t seen decreases. I was down in Mexico City in March I believe, and was talking to some former intel people who still have ties within the government. They grumble privately about the U.S. not dealing with the money and guns flowing into Mexico, but on some levels these are relationships that have been established over years of working together. And even if the people at the top may have issues, there is this tendency from people who are on the ground to work together because like the task force down in El Paso, where the Mexican authorities have people there, working with the U.S. authorities. So, I think those closer to the ground relationships endure even as there are tensions at the top, but right now you do see Mexico pretty much continuing to do what it has done in the past.
Donald Kerwin: There’s been all signs, and historically there’s been a memorandum called the Sensitive Locations Memorandum within ICE, that enforcement actions shouldn’t take place at or near sensitive locations, basically places where people’s wellbeing or their conscience requires them to be, and yet there are increased reports in fact that it’s happening, they are waiting outside school, or shelters, hospitals, courts. Is this a new policy from up high?
Ron Nixon: ICE says that it’s not, because they say they have always gone into court and that courts are not listed as sensitive locations. Schools, churches, those places are and the way that they are interpreting the policy is that they aren’t going into those places, but there is nothing that keeps them from being outside the homeless shelter, or being outside the church, as long as they are not on a property, but if you are across the street from it, then their interpretation of it, is that then you are not violating that directive.
Donald Kerwin: The head of ICE enforcement is directing agents to arrest all undocumented persons with whom they come in contact with. That seems at odds with the administrations priorities.
Ron Nixon: That is a change from the previous administration, which said that priority was going to be people who pose sometime of risk to the U.S., and that was a directive that was issued by the head of ICE to agents in the field. For two reasons: one, is the grandma who had tint on her window that was too dark and you get pulled over and you are found to be undocumented, that the Obama administration felt is not really what we want ICE agents to go and track these people down. The M13 guy, the folks that smuggle drugs, the human smugglers, those were the priorities. The residuals, as they call them, if you went someplace and someone had a deportation order, and you went someplace and you encountered other people that were undocumented, then you simply got the people you had the order for, the other person didn’t pose a threat, so you left them alone. That has changed, where Mr. Hollman, the ICE Director says, look if you run across them they are fair game, so that is definitely a change from before.
Donald Kerwin: I wonder, as I listen to Secretary Kelly as he regularly says, ICE actions are about protecting and serving the public. That is their mission, but you also have police chiefs around the country saying that they are not able to protect and serve the public if they perform immigration enforcement, and they are increasingly being pressured, and in some places, feel forced to take on this as a priority. How can that paradox or conflict be resolved?
Ron Nixon: Again, that is a tough question. I don’t have the answer for that, but it is an issue because for the local authorities, they are saying once a person has done their time, we can’t hold them. ICE is saying, well you need to hold them because one, the best place to get those people is when they are already confined, and it doesn’t pose a threat to the public or to the agents at ICE. They used to do these detainers, but detainers aren’t legal documents. Several documents have said that they are not.
Donald Kerwin: They are voluntary request.
Ron Nixon: Right, voluntary requests, like me saying to you, hey can you do this for me? That is not really legal, in terms of legal document, ICE has determined, ‘look it is legal for us to do that because you want to get these people off the streets’. When I say legal, I mean it’s not a legal document like a warrant. A lot of jurisdictions will say, ‘look if you have a warrant, we will gladly hand the person over to you, that’s fine’, because they are afraid that they could be sued for violating that person’s constitutional right for holding them 48 hours beyond the time they have served their time. That is the issue, cities don’t want to open themselves to lawsuits, because courts have ruled, that detainer is not the same as a warrant. And then I think ICE put out this report for a time, reporting to show jurisdictions that didn’t honor the detainers, and myself, and a colleague Liz Robins did a couple of reports on the flaws in those, because some of those I know in particular Minneapolis, my hometown, the Hennepin County sheriff took offense to that, and actually held a press conference and showed a still of him handing off people to ICE even though ICE said he wasn’t being cooperative. It is ongoing, there are some police chiefs and sheriffs, that say we are going to do this, and there are others who are saying that ‘we aren’t going to do this for the reasons cited before, and also because we aren’t immigration and that is a federal responsibility that does not fall on local people’.
Donald Kerwin: We had the former head of Executive Office for Immigration Review, Juan Osuna here yesterday, and we are doing an event with him and interview, and we asked him what he would do about that immense backlog issue that you have, it’s almost 600,000 cases now. Part of his answer, it is a complicated problem, but one of the main contributors is the fact that their resources just haven’t kept up with resources of the enforcement agencies that are putting people into the removal proceedings. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that, what are the solutions to that problem?
Ron Nixon: You know again, I don’t know what the solution is. I know it is a problem that there are simply not enough judges to hear these cases, and as a result you have a tremendous backlog at the same time that you want to do more internal enforcement, build capacity to detain more and more people, but again where are they going to go? How do you resolve the problem of giving them their day in court? I think going back to the point before, this was something that the Obama administration recognized, probably the Bush administration before that too, that ICE is always going to have a finite amount of resources, you can increase it, increase the size, add a couple of thousand more, but ICE has about 8,000, and you are talking about an undocumented population in the millions. You know the math on that just does not favor the courts because you have all these people detained, but not enough judges to hear their cases.
Donald Kerwin: You know another thing he said, and I wanted to ask you about, was that it’s his sense that as the Trump administration faces increased difficulties related to some of its agenda, like passing of health care, tax reform, whatever, that it’s likely to focus more on immigration legislatively. That they have a clear sense of what they want to do, and that will come to the fore more legislatively. Do you think that is an accurate projection of what might happen?
Ron Nixon: I can see that, because as I said, the article that I did last week was about how the DHS was focused a lot on immigration, even though it has a broad portfolio of things than immigration. If you look at the proposed budget increase, CBP and ICE, 21 percent and almost 30 percent respectively, everything else was barely moving or cut, because again it’s something that you can show, you can see. And when the president ran on these issues, that was the top issue, and talk about getting the rapists and other people out of the country. I think it is something that is easier to get at the Republicans as a whole on. Healthcare is much more complicated because I was listening to this thing about health care in Kentucky. Well, people have it and they like it. The fact they can go see a dentist. That’s hard, even the Republican legislators don’t want to mess with that. Immigration is a little different because there is this sense in a lot of places that immigrants are taking these jobs, and that they are sucking up all- again the data doesn’t show that- but there is that widespread belief, and that is an easier target than health care, taxes, foreign policy, all these other things. Immigration is obviously complex too, but I think it’s an easier sell than the other issues are.
Donald Kerwin: Do you have any thoughts on the administration’s ultimate plans for the DACA recipients?
Ron Nixon: I don’t. I don’t know if the administration has an ultimate plan for the DACA recipients. The president has said, oh you know these kids are great, and we don’t want to be harsh, but I don’t think they have given it a lot of thought. Secretary Kelly did tell the Hispanic Caucus that according to his talks with lawyers, that they thought that if DACA was challenged in court that it wouldn’t survive. I don’t know it you can say policy, or his view based on his talks with lawyers, but as whole I don’t think there is a strategy for what to do.
Donald Kerwin: Meaning the Department of Justice certainly won’t defend it.
Ron Nixon: I think that’s the implication, that they won’t defend it if it does reach the courts.
Donald Kerwin: What about the Temporary Protected Status for some of the larger groups. We’ve done a statistical portrait of TPS recipients from Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, and what do you think about the long-term liability of those programs in the Trump administration for those populations?
Ron Nixon: I think again, in some ways the same boat as DACA. I don’t think there’s been a lot of thought given to it, given all the other stuff that is happening, the Russia administration, all of these things. I don’t think that there is a long-term strategy for it. I think people are aware of it, some of his aides, Stephen Miller, in particular, Steve Bannon have probably given it more thought than others, but there’s been a lot of focus on health care recently, again the bog down and Russia. I don’t think it has gotten their attention to the point where someone has sat down and said, ‘hey this is what we need to do.’ I do know that there is some talk on doing more criminal background on people with Temporary Protected Status, but again I don’t get a sense just on my conversations with people that there is a long-term strategy.
Donald Kerwin: If you were to prognosticate, given all the campaign promises of the president on immigration. What do you think is likely to happen and what isn’t?
Ron Nixon: Of all of the things he said? Well, I think one, something will be built, there’s not going to be a wall that Secretary Kelly and as the President recently said, ‘from sea to shining sea’, there is just not going to be a wall. I think they will build out in places like, Rio Grande Valley and San Diego region. But I don’t think it’s going to be as fast as they think it will be. Some of the time frames they were given were pretty optimistic, 24 months? No. A lot of the land that you need to build the wall on are particularly in Texas, which has over 1000 miles of the overall border, it is privately owned, and that kind of process takes forever. There are still cases pending from the wall in 2008.
I think something will be built though, and they will show that we are building these physical barriers. I think at some point you will see the immigration policies, particularly ICE, probably become similar to the Obama administration’s simply because of resources. There are simply not enough people, and there is not enough money to do all of these things, and because of also the push back from more conservative members, who they came to Congress not to spend a lot, so they don’t want to renege on that promise. I think that by the time the Supreme Court ruling gets around to this whole vetting, that the report will be done and that they will have to act on that, and not try to wait for what the Supreme Court says, one way or the other. You are already starting to see bit and pieces of that, like the Hawaii judge, saying grandparents are obviously close family, and you see an expansion of close family. Like close family is difficult anyways. We tend to see this in a more American, or more American European point of view, but in a lot of cultures that’s just not the way that family structures are set up. Everybody is a close family. Heck, even people from the South, everybody is our cousin. I have so many cousins I can’t even count. I’m like who is that cousin?
Ron Nixon: Right exactly, but which level of cousins? 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousins. Those things complicate the ability to try to do, because it’s not clear cut. None of this is clear cut, and I think that’s the problem when you try and simplify a very complicated issue. I do think there will be a push to do some type of immigration reform.
Donald Kerwin: Do you? Including a legalization program?
Ron Nixon: I’m not sure, if it will get to that point, but I think here will be something because you have to. The immigration system the way it works now, is just ineffective, and I think most people will say that, and it can’t continue the way that it is. It will collapse under its own weight, and you can’t keep kicking the can down the road, year after year. I think they will have to do something, now will the base support that? Unlikely, but I do think they will at least try to do something.
Donald Kerwin: Well, we thank you for being here, is there anything else you want to say?
Ron Nixon: Well, thank you guys, I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me! I enjoy the work that you guys do. The information is always useful. Look forward to seeing what else you guys come out with.
Rachel Reyes: CMSOnAir’s themes music is provided by Danny Duberstein and the Music Case. To get more information on CMS’s research, publications and events, visit us at cmsny.org.