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Center For Immigration Studies Director Discusses Proposed Border Security Compromise


Will he or won't he? That's the question reverberating around Washington and through the country today. Will President Trump sign the budget deal that a bipartisan group of lawmakers has hammered out?


The president has said he is not happy with the spending bill. It includes only a fraction of the 5.7 billion he wanted for a border wall, a border wall that was the centerpiece of candidate Donald Trump's campaign promise to stop illegal immigration.

CORNISH: As the executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian has spent much of his career advocating for more restrictive immigration policies. And he joins me now in the studio. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


CORNISH: So the president says, you know - not wild about the deal, not happy. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says pretty good deal. From where you sit, policy-wise, is it a good deal?

KRIKORIAN: It's - I wouldn't even say it's a half-full glass, but it's got a few teaspoons in it, I think is the way I'd talk about it. So I expect the president probably will sign it. But the responsible thing to do would be to have an extension of the current funding for a week for people to be able to read what's in the bill because...

CORNISH: So you want to talk more.

KRIKORIAN: Yeah, because - I don't mean negotiate more. I mean actually see what they've come up with because it's going to be a thousand or more pages long, and it deals with other government agencies, as well. And it's just not responsible to, you know, get a thousand page piece of legislation and, 24 hours later, have to vote on it.

CORNISH: In the meantime, there's, say, an executive action to bypass Congress and divert money into wall construction. There's a possibility of declaring a national emergency. There is executive authority to tap funds elsewhere. The White House has a lot of options, and they've alluded to the idea that they might be willing to use them. Do you think that is the right move?

KRIKORIAN: I think they're likely to not necessarily declare a national emergency. I think that's something that would set a really problematic precedent for future presidents. I mean, if Kamala Harris were president, then what does she do with that authority? You see what I mean? But there are other authorities, short of declaring a national emergency, where the president can reallocate certain money to build some more fencing, for instance. I expect he probably will do some of that. It may be challenged in court. Who knows? But I think the most - the national emergency idea, I think, is probably a bridge too far because of the precedent it would set.

CORNISH: So basically, your objection to that is, when you're not the party in power, that becomes a lot less appealing.

KRIKORIAN: That's why you have a lot of the protections, whether it's in legislative or executive branch - because you don't want to be on the receiving end of things like that because you're not always going to be in power.

CORNISH: You've said you're not a wall or bust guy. But why do you think the wall's such important shorthand?

KRIKORIAN: It's shorthand - it's not symbolic because we actually do need more fencing, more barriers on the border. But it was, I think, a way for the president to communicate to people during the campaign that he was serious about border enforcement, unlike other candidates before him.

CORNISH: Is it a problem now?

KRIKORIAN: Yeah, I think he's - the problem is he kind of talked himself into a box by emphasizing the wall so much. And you know, the - I mean, while it's important, there are other measures that are more important - change if - plugging loopholes in asylum law; the E-Verify system, which makes it harder for illegal immigrants to get jobs. Those kinds of things, in my opinion, are clearly higher priority than more fencing, as valuable as increased fencing in certain areas would be.

CORNISH: At the same time, this administration has faced several legal setbacks when it has tried to draw restrictions around immigration or asylum. From where you sit, are they making progress for the agenda for people who want restrictive immigration policy?

KRIKORIAN: I think the answer is yes. The difference is that when this administration started, both its supporters and opponents thought this would be a kind of shock and awe, you know, rolling over the opposition, when in fact, this is more a matter of trench warfare, metaphorically. And so success is going to be measured in inches and feet, not in overwhelming, you know, triumphs. And so, you know, they've been - you know, they've gained some inches and some feet here and there. So in my opinion, the direction is right, but the degree of success obviously has been pretty limited.

CORNISH: Mark Krikorian is the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Thank you for coming in.

KRIKORIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.