After Donald Trump was elected, I phoned two of my contacts at the border to get their reaction to the Trump victory and the reaction of the border patrol agents in the Tucson, Arizona, sector.
The official from Arizona Border Recon summed it up in one word: Border patrol agents were “ecstatic.” The other friend of mine, the field director for Arizona Border Recon, had similar comments. But after the initial exuberance, he said they are settling down in a wait-and-see attitude.
President-elect Trump made a lot of controversial statements about what he would do if elected president. One of his signature issues was immigration, with the promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and deport all migrants in the country illegally.
We all know by now — at least, we should — that was campaign bluster, which leaves the question of what he will or can do. In a “60 Minutes” interview, after he said he would build a wall, he was asked: “Would you accept a fence?” He answered: “For certain areas I would, but certain areas the wall is more appropriate.”
More recently, when asked about his statement that Mexico would pay for the building of the wall, he said the U.S. will build the wall for the “sake of speed” and get payment from Mexico later. What we may get is the completion of the 700 miles of double-layered border fencing authorized in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. So far, only 36 miles have been built. Let me emphasize we are talking about double-layered border fencing with a road between the two layers of fencing, allowing rapid movement of the border patrol agents in their vehicles.
On my previous trips, the border patrol agents I talked to were frustrated over the “prosecutorial discretion” policies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that have prevented them from effectively doing their jobs.
Prosecutorial discretion was a scheme established in 2014 by Homeland Security that prioritized apprehension and removals of aliens, particularly those who are “ threats to national security, border security and public safety.”
The six-page memo in which Homeland Security summarizes its enforcement priorities sounds good, but as far as implementation goes, not so much. A recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies states, among other things, that “Aliens removed from the interior in 2016 have declined 73 percent from 2009, the year President Obama took office.”
The report has more details showing similar reductions in enforcement and removals. This lack of enforcement, and selective enforcement, gave rise to the term “catch and release,” and this is the primary source of frustration and low morale among border patrol agents, as expressed to me by an agent on my trip to the border last year.
So what can we expect from the Trump administration? Who knows. I do know that U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who has been nominated for U.S. attorney general, was the No. 1 advocate among those who want to secure the border and enforce immigration laws. How much effect he has on the administration’s immigration policy will be determined.
I do know this. That border can be secured. We have the technical, diplomatic, fiscal and enforcement capabilities — and, most importantly, the imagination and creativity — to achieve it. We only lack the will.
Bob Casimiro has been to the border eight times. He was formerly the executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Immigration Reform, and he is currently executive director of Mainers for Responsible Immigration. He lives in Bridgton.