White House Says Trump Is Still Considering Declaring A National Emergency
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We have been talking about it all evening, and now at the top of the hour, President Trump will deliver a primetime speech from the Oval Office. It is the first time he has done this. He's making the case for a border wall. The White House wants $5.7 billion to pay for a physical barrier on the southern border. Congressional Democrats have resisted that request, and they will have a rebuttal after the president speaks. This standoff has forced a shutdown of parts of the federal government now in its 18th day.
The administration has made a number of arguments in support of the wall. And in these final moments leading up to the president's address, we're going to examine some of those claims with NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.
SHAPIRO: The White House says it needs the wall to address what the president calls a humanitarian and national security crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico. So to begin, is there a crisis?
HORSLEY: You can certainly make the case that there is a humanitarian crisis, Ari, somewhat of the administration's own making. The argument for a security crisis is a lot more tenuous. On the one hand, illegal border crossings in the most recent fiscal year were actually down from both 2014 and 2016 and way down from their peak around the year 2000.
But we have seen an uptick in the last few months in border crossings, and we're especially seeing more children and families coming from Central America, which presents a - more of a challenge for the Border Patrol than single adults crossing over from Mexico. A lot of the Central American migrants are seeking asylum, citing a fear of violence or persecution back home. And because the Trump administration is reluctant to release those migrants while those asylum claims are processed, we are beginning to see overcrowding in detention centers, and the presence of those young migrants also creates a lot of complications.
SHAPIRO: So that speaks to the claim of a humanitarian crisis. What about the argument that there is a national security crisis? Let's listen to part of what the president said last Friday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I talk about drugs. I talk about gangs. But a lot of people don't say, we have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that's probably the easiest place to come through.
SHAPIRO: Scott, is there a national security threat at the southern border?
HORSLEY: Ari, it has to be said the Trump administration has a long history of exaggerating claims about crime and terrorism to justify its immigration policies, and we're certainly seeing that in this fight over the border wall. On "Fox News Sunday," the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, tried to argue that nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were stopped in 2017 and therefore we need a border wall, and she was challenged on that by the host, Chris Wallace, of "Fox News Sunday," who said, look; most of those folks are being stopped at airports, not crossing the southern border.
The Homeland Security Department has refused to say how many individuals who might be on a terror watch list, for example, have actually been apprehended on the southern border. They say that figure is sensitive. But NBC News reports that during a six-month period, the number was six. By comparison, something like seven times that many people were stopped who are on terrorist watch lists along the northern border in Canada.
Now, as for crime, studies have shown immigrants who live in the U.S. illegally commit crime at a lower rate than native-born Americans. And the president also mentioned drugs in that Friday quote. The Drug Enforcement Administration says most of the drugs that come over the border illegally from Mexico come through the ports of entry. They're smuggled through the ports of entry, so they're not something that would be stopped by a wall.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what the administration is asking for because there has been talk of concrete versus steel, a wall versus a security system. What is this request exactly?
HORSLEY: The latest request is for $5.7 billion for 234 miles of new physical barrier. That works out to about $24 million per mile. And in addition, the administration is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars to hire new border guards, more immigration judges, to build new detention beds and to, quote, "ensure the well-being of those migrants who are taken into custody."
SHAPIRO: And are Democrats resistant to any wall at all?
HORSLEY: You know, they have really kind of dug in their heels. Last week, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, called the border wall costly, ineffective and immoral. But we should say there are nearly 700 miles of border wall that's been built since '06, and Democrats voted for some of that construction.
SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, thank you.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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