After President Biden's meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the White House has been touting the agreement for Mexico to pay $1.5 billion over two years for U.S. border security efforts. But how will this money be spent and is it enough? What will the U.S. have to do in return? Given that we are on track for a record-breaking year in terms of illegal border crossings, what is at stake in terms of safety and security and what we must do to finally fix the border? Lora Ries is the director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation, and on this episode, she explains.
Tim Doescher: Now we've got an incredible lineup of podcasts here at The Heritage Foundation. So much good content. But one podcast in particular that we wanted to highlight is The Kevin Roberts Show. Kevin is the new president here at The Heritage Foundation, and each week his compelling interviews give a rallying cry for lovers of freedom everywhere and gives us the playbook for how we can go on offense with our ideas. You can subscribe to the Kevin Roberts Show anywhere you listen to podcasts. So do it today. From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher and this is Heritage Explains.
Donald Trump: And Mexico's going to pay for the wall, because Mexico ... I love the Mexican people. I respect the Mexican leaders, but the leaders are much sharper, smarter, and more cunning than our leaders. And just to finish people say, "Oh, how are you going to get Mexico to pay?" A politician, other than the people on this stage, I don't want to insult. A politician cannot get them to pay. I can.
Doescher: That was candidate Donald Trump at a presidential debate in Colorado in October of 2015. Seems like an eternity ago. Now Trump spoke about the border a lot. And despite the narrative spun by the media, a lot actually happened under his administration. 458 miles of border wall was constructed, all sorts of ground sensing technology, drones, and other tech was implemented.
Doescher: In addition, enforcing laws already on the books, like the Remain in Mexico Policy worked to keep border encounters down. While we never got a check from Mexico per se, increased cooperation with them, helped bring border crossings down. Then Biden took office. But before we get there, I wanted to cover one thing. A common measurement for illegal aliens crossing the border is the encounter count. Now an encounter is typically measured by two criteria.
Doescher: First, apprehensions in which migrants are taken into custody in the United States to await adjudication. And two, expulsions in which migrants are immediately expelled to their home country or last country of transit without being held in us custody. So let's put it in context.
Doescher: There were around 350,000 encounters at the Southern border in 2020, the last year of Trump's presidency. And in 2021, the first year of Biden's presidency around 1.1 million encounters. That's an over 210% increase. So what was the Biden administration's response, other than canceling the wall and killing the effective Remain in Mexico Policy?
Kamala Harris: Folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous track to the United States, Mexico border, do not come. Do not come.
Doescher: Since Vice President Harris said that, we're on track to shatter encounter number records at the border for 2022. They're coming and they're not stopping. So what is the Biden Administration doing now? Here's CBS in Los Angeles.
Clip: President Biden and Mexican President Andreas Manuel Lopez [inaudible 00:04:14] at the White House announcing major agreements, including $1.5 billion in smart border technology paid for by Mexico. President Biden emphasized this as a new era of cooperation.
Joe Biden: As I told you from the beginning and I mean this, I see, we see Mexico as an equal partner.
Clip: The two leaders met for several hours. President Biden announced the U.S. would expand the number of working visas, expand worker protections and said the U.S. would allow more refugees.
Doescher: So let's recap. The number of encounters at the Southern border is through the roof and only getting worse. Mexico is now committing $1.5 billion over two years for smart border technology. And in return, the U.S. is going to increase the numbers of worker and refugee visas and provide more worker protection for them. So is this going to solve the crisis at the seemingly wide open border or is this just a political stunt, to be able to say Biden was able to get Mexico to pay for the border and Trump wasn't just in time for the 2022 midterm elections?
Doescher: Lora Ries is the director of the Border Security and Immigration Center here at The Heritage Foundation. On this episode, she joins us to cut through the noise of politics and expose the consequences of president Biden's open door policies that have led to more deadly drugs, more hardened criminals escaping into our communities, and of course the devastating reality of migrants dying at record numbers.
Doescher: And she'll make the case that true border security is actually safety and security for all. Lora, here's a headline from Market Watch, "Mexican president Lopez [inaudible 00:06:20] agrees in meetings with Biden to fund 1.5 billion in smart border security. White House hails U.S. securing of border funding from Mexico after years of failed efforts to achieve that end by Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump." I want your first response to that headline.
Lora Ries: I think the left has been just waiting and itching to throw back in Trump's face when he said, "We're going to build a big, beautiful wall and Mexico is going to pay for it."
Ries: And the left has always said, "Well, they didn't pay for it." And so now the Biden Administration's getting a little bit of money from Mexico and voila.
Ries: Suddenly Mexico is paying for Biden, "border security."
Doescher: Yeah. And so it's 1.5 billion over two years. There's some more visas that we're going to extend to Mexico, there's little things, but it seems to me that this is a chance for a headline.
Ries: Exactly, exactly.
Doescher: Okay. And it doesn't really get to securing the border.
Ries: No. Even when Joe Biden was campaigning for president, any verbiage he would dedicate to border security was more technology at the ports of entry. Now, that's a good thin. It's certainly needed, but he completely ignores everything that happens between the ports of entry. And that's where all the illegal immigration occurs. That's where the drugs cross, the terrorists cross the border, criminal aliens, et cetera.
Ries: And so it looks like they've made some back deal arrangement where Mexico throws a little bit of money to go towards this tech for ports of entry. But that won't affect the historic numbers of illegal aliens and drugs we're currently seeing.
Doescher: It also seems to me like they can no longer, with the footage that we have at this border, they can no longer pretend like this isn't an issue. On the campaign, they criticized, I mean, they criticized Trump for four years for saying that this is an issue. Just criticizing him for saying it's an issue. And now here, even this seems like an admission. That there is something seriously wrong down there.
Ries: Yeah. During their joint press conference in the White House, even President Biden said historic levels of illegal immigration. And I recall at his most recent state of the union, he said, "Let's secure the border." But for him, these are just words, because his policies don't match that at all.
Ries: We are seeing historic levels of illegal aliens, unaccompanied alien children, drugs, deaths at the border. All bad records. We've already hit 1.7 million for this fiscal year and we're not even done this fiscal year yet. And that's just year two for Biden. So if we take the number that has been thrown around for decades of 11 million illegal aliens reside in this country, Joe Biden is on track to nearly double that.
Doescher: We're talking about border security here. But my question is and when you put this, "Mexico's going to pay for this," or not going to pay for this, they're going to pay 1.5 billion for this. My question immediately was, why do we need Mexico to help us secure our border? It seems to me like that's something that we should be doing here, but it's just a pivot, because we can't get anything done or Biden doesn't want the responsibility maybe. I don't know why we need Mexico to do this.
Ries: Well, it's a valid question and this administration doesn't have the will to do it clearly, because they haven't changed course. Personally, I think this is a bit of a kickback. Mexico and many countries, Central America and elsewhere get a very good deal from this country, in that we give them billions of dollars of foreign aid. US is the biggest supplier of foreign aid to Mexico and central America.
Ries: We take their illegal aliens, mostly working age here and we let them come in and we let them stay here and we let them work here, even though that violates multiple laws. And then they send remittances back to their home country, which we don't even touch in the forms of taxes or fees or restrictions.
Ries: It's a great deal for Mexico and these other countries. And yet, we just let it happen. So I think President Lopez [inaudible 00:10:50] from Mexico sees Joe Biden to be weak, like many other leaders around the world do and they are taking advantage. And the fact that Mexico's going to pitch in "1.5 billion over two years." I think for, if you take that out of the remittances Mexico's getting over the years, it's a drop in the bucket.
Doescher: Do we know who is coming across these borders? Do we have any sense for that? Are we able to apprehend them and then find out, or are people just coming in and having their business?
Ries: Well, most people are turning themselves into the border agents, because they want to be "processed." So what's done with them is basically a biometric check, maybe a quick name check, but the numbers are so high and the lines, so to speak are so large, that basically DHS kind of has to cut corners and just quickly process them north.
Ries: And a good example of this was one person was cleared to enter and then when the name check and the background check was finalized, we discover that he was a wanted known or suspected terrorist and already relocated to Florida. And it took ICE two weeks to get permission to go pick him up and remove him. So that's just one example.
Ries: And those are the people that are turning themselves in to be processed. Meanwhile, we have at least 800,000 got aways, people who don't want to be caught and sneaking across, bringing the drugs. We have to assume there's more known and suspected terrorists and other serious criminals in that large population.
Doescher: Is there something that states can do about this? Is there something that we should be telling our friends in the states look out for this, watch for this? Because I betcha that for whatever solutions we might have, the left also has solutions and things ready for the states as well. So I'm wondering how you see that as a way of dealing with border security?
Ries: Well, under the law, it's the federal government's job to enforce immigration law, including removing or deporting an alien.
Ries: Now we've seen Texas do quite a bit, in terms of having the Texas Department of Public Safety and their national guard go down to the border and arrest people for state crimes and prosecute them that way. But unless, and until Texas can remove illegal aliens, it'll just be a speed bump on the way north. And so you're seeing states and counties, particularly Arizona, the attorney general there, and now Texas is looking at this invasion question, can states protect themselves since their federal government refuses to do its job?
Ries: That is not something that has been tested in the Supreme Court, in the court system period. So we'll see what happens with that. But meanwhile, states can pass laws to make it more difficult for illegal immigration to continue within their states, including not issuing driver's licenses, not issuing business licenses, cracking down on harboring and transporting illegal aliens and smuggling of illegal aliens. Those sorts of things.
Ries: Not giving in-state tuition. Basically not giving benefits to someone who's not supposed to be here, because the longer someone is here and the more benefits they get, the more roots they put down. And then if they do encounter ICE, who seeks to remove them, that alien argues, "Well, you can't remove me. I have too many ties to the US."
Doescher: What would you say is the one or the two or the policies that have really changed, that have added to this record number of people coming across the Southern border?
Ries: I would say it is ending the Remain in Mexico Program is one, and then the, what we're called the Asylum Cooperative Agreements. But it really comes down to safe third country rule, which I'll explain in a moment. And they go hand in hand. Trump was the first president to use the Remain in Mexico Program. That is something Congress passed in 1996, no president ever used it.
Ries: But the notion was, if you're going to cross our border illegally and then pursue asylum, we can return you to Mexico and you can wait for your proceedings to work their way through the court there. And it was very effective, because future illegal aliens saw that no longer was getting to the border and saying a few words of fear, their golden ticket to get into the US and disappear. When they learned, "What, I have to wait in Mexico, I'm not even going to bother going."
Ries: And so the left will often say, "Oh, the Remain in Mexico Program only had hundreds of thousands of people in it." But the more important number is, who didn't come because of it.
Doescher: Wow. Yeah.
Ries: And then hand in hand goes the safe third country rule. Asylum is about protection. It's about saving lives and if you are truly fleeing for your life, you are going to ask for protection in the first safe country in which you arrive. Not traverse three countries just to get to the US, because that's where you wanted to go all along and then suddenly claim, "Oh, I can't go home because I'm going to be persecuted."
Ries: And so putting that into operation meant the Trump Administration dealing with Mexico and Central American governments and saying, "Look, if this happens and they didn't seek asylum in your country, we're sending them back to your country." And Trump was the first president in decades to leverage US's very significant power with these countries. And they got in line and quickly cooperated. That made all the difference.
Doescher: So and that wasn't even a Congressional thing. That was just basically an enforcement of law that already existed.
Ries: Yeah. It was negotiations in the Executive Branch.
Doescher: Yeah. So we've got 1.5 billion over the next two years to fix a border crisis, where we saw 207,000 people come across in June. The number isn't really decreasing. It's basically going up. We are seeing more and more people see an opportunity to come illegally into the United States of America. Talk to the Oval Office right now. What is our first step here? Where do we turn this thing around?
Ries: Well, it's not just saying, "The border is closed or secure. Don't come." Secretary [inaudible 00:17:21] has been saying that over and over again. And they're just empty words. Future migrants see that if people can get in successfully, they're going to try it as well. Yeah. So it is actions, not just words.
Ries: It is completing that border wall, not just pouring money into technology at the ports. It is paying attention to what's happening between the ports. But really it all comes down to prevention. And that is what will stop the drugs, it will stop the crime, it will stop the rapes of women and children making the journey, and save a lot more Americans. Rather than allowing it to happen, processing them in and then paying for it on the back end. Whether it's more immigration judges or more asylum officers to adjudicate cases, that's throwing good money after bad. Prevent it to begin with.
Doescher: Yeah. You keep seeing these photos of all these pills that are, of course doused in fentanyl, that are literally killing our brothers and sisters and friends and family throughout this nation. And it is coming through, a lot of it is coming through our Southern border. This is about security.
Doescher: This is our security. We don't know if there are terrorists coming through the Southern border. We have no idea because like you said, it is almost just ... they're so overwhelmed, they don't have time to do that. And it seems to me that if we are truly going to look out for our own security and our own wellbeing, securing the border really has to be all hands on deck. And 1.5 billion just doesn't seem enough.
Ries: No, it doesn't. And ironically, the Mexican President said that the US respects Mexico's sovereignty. And yet our president won't uphold our own sovereignty. And that's his number one job, is to protect Americans. And he's simply not doing it.
Doescher: Well, Lora, I thank you so much for tracking this. You are an ace on this subject and your time today is so much appreciated. And so we'll keep on having you back in here to give us updates on this. I don't know, maybe we can get another half a billion out of Mexico. But somehow the number isn't going to be the solution to this, throwing money at it, doesn't seem to be the issue here.
Ries: No prevention is the key.
Doescher: Thanks Lora.
Ries: Thank you.
Doescher: And that's it for this episode of Heritage Explains. Thank you so much for listening. Leave us a comment. You can rate us five stars. We love the five star rating. That really, really helps, but also we love it when you share us with your friends and family. It's the greatest thing that you can do. Head over to the show notes to see what we've linked to there. The content that helped build out this episode, great resources there. Head over and do it. Michelle's up next episode, we'll catch you then.