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Is Trump's Insistence On A Border Wall Turning Into A Liability?


One think tank that is broadly in accord with President Trump's immigration priorities is the Center for Immigration Studies. It advocates lower levels of legal immigration. Yet Mark Krikorian of that center has raised concerns about the president's narrow focus on a border wall which he will discuss in an address to the nation tonight. He's in our studios.

Mr. Krikorian, welcome back.


INSKEEP: What could possibly go wrong?

KRIKORIAN: Well, the point to the wall was multifaceted. It was a shorthand that the president used during the campaign.

INSKEEP: It's a symbol.

KRIKORIAN: And, in fact - well, it's not just a symbol. I mean, we actually do need some more border barriers in various places. We have some. We need more. But it was a shorthand. It was a way to tell people - look; I'm not the usual lying politician. I'm actually serious about this. And it was effective as that. The problem is that now that, you know, the administration's been around for a couple of years, you have to follow through to some degree. And the Democrats have determined - accurately, I think - that the president's focus on the wall was a vulnerability, was an opportunity for the Democrats to deny him that in an attempt, basically, to show his impotence.

INSKEEP: And now he is desperate. Or you fear he will be desperate to give up anything to get the wall?

KRIKORIAN: Yeah. I've always kind of worried about that, that he was going to give the Democrats far more than really was warranted in exchange for the wall. Because more border barriers, like I said, they're important. But there are other things that are more important, things like plugging loopholes in our asylum laws, E-Verify and what have you.

It's kind of interesting. The president, on the one hand, really is, I think, desperate to have a success here. But the other side is that the Democrats really do seem to be obsessed in denying him a win on this. And the question is, is that obsession almost Captain Ahab-like, from "Moby Dick," to get the orange whale? Is that going to be a bigger problem for them, or is the president's desperation to get the wall going to be the bigger issue?

INSKEEP: Mr. Krikorian, since you're a critic of high levels of legal immigration, I want to ask you about something that we're hearing elsewhere on the program today. Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator, possible presidential candidate, is on the program. And she spoke about one kind of anxiety in the country right now. She said, quote, "people are reading about the browning of America. Barack Obama was president. Oh, my God." That's a quote from Kamala Harris. Is that you?

KRIKORIAN: No, certainly not. I mean, the issue here is not the individual characteristics of immigrants, whether it's their color, their religion or whatever. It's the effect that immigration has on a modern society. And we don't have time to go into it here. But I wrote a whole book on this, that there's a conflict between high levels of immigration and the goals and characteristics of a modern society in a way that wasn't necessarily true, say, a hundred or 200 years ago.

INSKEEP: Do you see high levels of immigration as a threat to the identity or the culture of America?

KRIKORIAN: It could potentially be. It depends how high they are. And it also depends on our own ability to successfully Americanize newcomers. We have a strong assimilationist tradition and strong assimilationist trends in our society. But it's weaker than it used to be for reasons that aren't really related to the immigrants themselves - are more related to changes in our own society.

INSKEEP: Are you ever uncomfortable with some of the people who agree with you? Because a lot of racists end up in the same position you're in.

KRIKORIAN: Yeah. I mean, every side has people who are, you know, sort of objectionable. I mean, there are triumphalist, sort of anti-white triumphalists on the pro-immigration side. And then there are people who are pro-white racists on the low-immigration side. You just sort of have to deal with that and address the people of goodwill on both sides of this debate.

INSKEEP: Mark Krikorian, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's with the Center for Immigration Studies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.