Were things on the border always so dysfunctional? Tom Homan, former Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, now a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, steps in to answer that question.
John Popp: From The Heritage Foundation, this is Heritage Explains.
John Ladd: And there's some Mexican cows.
The Daily Signal: Do they taste any different?
Ladd: They what?
The Daily Signal: Do they taste any different?
Ladd: No, you know what the best beef on the border is?
The Daily Signal: What?
Ladd: Your neighbors.
Mark Guiney: That's the voice of John Ladd, a rancher in Cochise County, Arizona whose property comes right up against the United States' southern border. We had the opportunity to interview him for a documentary for The Daily Signal in 2021. We drove in his truck on the road that runs along the base of the newly completed border wall. We also spoke to him at one of his barns, getting some of his experience of life on the border. And just a note to our parents who may be listening, this episode contains some real descriptions of events that happen on the southern border, which may not be the best for younger listeners. Back to Mr. Ladd.
Ladd: Well, my great-grandparents came in 1894 and we raise beef cattle. Our ranch is about 16,000 acres. We have 10 and a half miles of the international border. We keep the mother cows, they have a calf every year, that's what we sell for beef. In 30 years, border patrol's caught a half a million people on our ranch and as soon as Donald Trump was elected, it almost stopped. They probably average-wise, they'd catch 10 a week during the four years of Donald Trump on our ranch. And during Bush and Obama it had been two or 300 a day. And we've had a wall since 2007 but they were cutting it, climbing it, political asylum, you name it.
But as soon as Donald Trump got elected it boom, it was over. So then Biden signed the executive order. Overnight, it started back up again and now they're catching at least 50 a day on the ranch. We've had 14 dead bodies on the ranch that I know of. That was a game changer for me when I found the first dead illegal. And now it's still disheartening to find somebody, but it's just, that's the way it is. It's either heat stroke, they freeze to death, or they're sick to begin with. They can't make it from the border to the highway and they die. But we've always helped them and then we call border patrol.
Guiney: Mr Ladd's experience is a common one for people who live on the border. The chaos spills over into almost everybody's life there and the people at the forefront are the Border Patrol. Today on the show, we want to talk about their story. The history of southern border enforcement from its beginning up until the Trump administration. At The Heritage Foundation, one of our experts has a lot of experience with that history and the lives of people who serve our country on the border.
Tom Homan: They wear kevlar vests, they put a gun under the hip, they put their lives on line for this country every day. Tonight, while you, I, and everybody that's listening is sleeping at 3:00 in the morning, there's an agent standing on a dirt trail someplace because a sensor went off. He doesn't know if that's just someone coming looking for a better life or is that a heavily armed drug smuggler. He doesn't know or she doesn't know, they're going to stand there and take it on. I know this because I did that job and I've done that.
Guiney: Tom Homan was former Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency more widely known as ICE, and he's currently a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. How did you get involved in border security?
Homan: I started as a border patrol agent in 1984 and I was in the border patrol four or five years. I became a special agent with the INS, which later became ICE, and I climbed the ranks one rung at a time until President Trump made me actually the first ICE director actually came up through the ranks, which is my proudest achievement because the 20,000 men and women that work for me, I didn't ask them to do anything I didn't do myself throughout my career. I was the first ICE director that actually came up through the ranks, so that's probably my proudest achievement and [inaudible 00:04:56] all-time high, I think because there wasn't a politician in that seat, it was actually a career law enforcement officer who knows the job.
Guiney: So how did you decide to become a border patrol officer and where was that?
Homan: I was actually a police officer in New York and the story is, I was fishing up the St. Lawrence River couple. A couple of the cops and border patrol pulled in in the motor boat docked up and I started talking. I'd always seen the board patrol around, didn't quite know what they did, but we started talking and it sounded interesting and the agent mentioned, "Hey, we're give a test next month. Y'all going to take the test? Down at the local post office." So I said, what the hell? I took the test and six months later, I got called for an interview and another month later I'm flying to San Diego to start my career at the board patrol.
The first night I arrived in San Diego for in-processing for three days. Then from there they would fly us to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia and the first night I was there, I was in the hotel in San Ysidro where the sector headquarters was at that time and I remember sitting in a hotel room eating Kentucky Fried Chicken, because there was a KFC right next door and all of a sudden I hear all this noise. I hear helicopters and I walk out of my front door and stepped out on the patio and I see helicopter spotlights chasing people around. I see just madness, numerous chases by border patrol agents. And I looked down and says, "What the hell did you get yourself into?" My proudest days were wearing the border patrol uniform. It's a great job and that great mission and there's not a finer bunch of federal law enforcement officers out there, I don't think.
Guiney: How would you say that your experience as a border patrol officer compares to somebody who's working on the border now?
Homan: It's drastically different. We did our job. We actually arrested people and we removed people. But you never heard of a political asylum, you never heard of it because now there's big loopholes in the asylum process, we never heard about that. In my five years in the border patrol, I never had a single one declare asylum. As a matter of fact, 95% of everybody I arrested was a Mexican national that you process and just returned right across the border through port of entry. That was 95% of your work. If you actually caught somebody from another country like Central America or another country, it was a long process. Processing someone from Mexico took about 15 minutes. Processing someone from a different country would take you two hours just because of paperwork involved. But like I said, maybe 5% of my time was spent doing that. And like I said, everybody we arrested, they either went back to Mexico or they went to jail.
Guiney: So can you talk of where enforcement on the border starts? Like when did we start doing this?
Homan: Well look, the border patrol's been around a long time. I can tell you this from my own experience. I've worked for six presidents enforcing immigration law starting with Ronald Reagan. He was president when I started in border patrol. I worked for six presidents. And I can honestly say this: Every president I've worked for, even Clinton and Obama, took some steps to secure the border because they understood you can't have national security without border security. Some did more than others. No one did more than President Trump. President Trump, what he did at the border is unprecedented by far. He had illegal immigration down to a 40, 45-year low depending on what timeframe you looked at. He had illegal immigration down as much as 83% depending on what timeframe you looked at. No other administration had that success. But all six presidents I worked for took some steps to try to secure the border and enforce immigration law.
But I can say this. It's transitioned to what it is today that President Biden is the first president that I know of probably in history of the nation that came into office and unsecured the border. No president's ever done that. And I get angry every day I wake up because I don't know what commander-in-chief comes in and says, "I'm want to unsecure the most secure border we've ever had on purpose." And he knew what he was doing. Like I said, he got over 200 briefings, what they should not do and what the effects would be if they did it. And that angers me every day because we worked very hard. I worked hard, after almost 35 years and finally the last two years of really getting to a point, the most secure border in my lifetime, and someone comes up and undoes it.
Because of several things is why I take it personal. Because my 35 years I've seen a lot of tragedy, I've seen a lot of death. I thought the girls as young as 10 years old that were raped multiple times, making that journey. Doctors Without Borders did a study that said 31% of women that make that journey get sexually assaulted. And the people who wore my shoes and once you talk to a girl as young as 10 years old that was raped multiple times and you look in her eyes, she's just, her soul's gone, any hope of humanity is gone, and she's just a hollow self, it's just devastating. That little girl will never be the same and I've talked a lot of them. You find the dead bodies I found and you hold the dying children and you see the things that the migrants who are tortured by the cartels that can't pay the money. I've seen all of this.
So it really made me proud when we had illegal immigration down 83% at a 40, 45-year low because if 83% less people are coming, for instance, if you take 83% of the cars off the highway, would there be less highway deaths? Of course. So at 83% less coming, less women are being sexually assaulted, less children were dying, less fentanyl would get into the country, because border police are all 100% on the line and vigilant. Less terrorists would try to come across, the cartels would be making a hell of a lot less money.
So I was very proud of what we did in the Trump administration and now I'm angry every day because we actually have an administration that came in and unsecured the border, which results in what? Anybody can look it up. Approximately 1,700 migrants have died on U.S. soil in the last three years. That's a record by far, nothing even close. We got over 200 known suspected terrorists arrested trying to get in the country. We got 1.8 million getaways. That scares the hell out of me because border patrol's arrested people from 171 different countries. Some of these countries are sponsors of terror. So if they've arrested 200, over 200, how many of that 1.8 came from countries sponsoring terrorism?
We got a record number of trafficking cases, we've got over 350,000 children who came in this country by themselves with self-separated. Their parents put them in the arms of criminal cartels based by the United States whose government can't find almost 100,00 of them because of poor vetting. To go to the most secure border where I think President Trump saved a lot of lives, now we're in a time where lives are being lost at a record pace. Not just immigrants, but U.S. citizens of fentanyl poisonings.
It pisses me off because whether they saw what the result of what they did is not, the bottom line is they're seeing it but they're not changing their methods and they're not trying to secure the border. I say this to everybody I talk to. Tell me one thing they've done to slow the flow. They haven't done anything to slow the flow. They send more people down the process quicker. They create the illegal programs, which they're going to lose, CBP One and the rest of it. Just secure the border, it's been done. The playbook's there, this isn't hard, we've done it. So that's where we're at today, sadly.
Guiney: Can you talk about what was the state of the border under Obama?
Homan: Well that's a good question. Under Obama in 2014 and 2015, we had a surge at the border. Families, mostly families and children. How did we stop it? I'll tell you how we stopped it. We built detention facilities, we built family residential centers to detain families, we held them long enough to see a judge. So it took about 40 days in detention to see a judge and those that lost, we put them in an airplane and sent them home. The border numbers went down. Now during this time, Alejandro Mayorkas was the deputy secretary, Joe Biden was the Vice President, so they know exactly what happened, they know exactly what we did to shut it down.
So knowing the recipe to success was detain, see a judge, nine out of 10 lose their case, put them on an airplane, send them home. Show there's consequences and we sent them home. And once these people started seeing these airplanes landing back in their home country, a lot of them stopped coming. They weren't going to spend their life savings to lose because most of them know they don't qualify.
So what are they doing now that he's secretary and Biden's the president? They're doing the complete opposite. They're not detaining. Many are being released without court tests at all and even if they show up in court, based on immigration court data, nearly nine out of 10 would never get relieved from U.S. courts because they simply don't qualify or don't show up in court. What happens to that nine out of 10? They'll get an order of removal. Under 2014, 2015, when Secretary Mayorkas was the Deputy Secretary, we removed them when they got a final order. Now he tells ICE being in the country illegally is not enough to make an arrest. They need to have something else, a criminal charge or something, a criminal conviction.
So they're doing the complete opposite of what they know works. And that's what I've been claiming for two years. This is not mismanagement, this is not incompetence, this is by design. They know how to fix this.
Guiney: So that initial surge under Obama, what was driving those families to come to the United States?
Homan: It was the result of DACA.
Guiney: Can you explain what that is for folks who may not know?
Homan: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This is children that come to the country, no fault of their own, their parents brought them here. And the Obama administration, Secretary Napolitano actually came up with DACA to give them deferred status, let them stay here in some sort of status to go to school.
Guiney: And the idea was that people who had been brought as children to the United States, you were giving them some form of maybe, I don't know if amnesty is the right word.
Homan: No it's not, it's a temporary status. It's actually deferred action. We're going to defer an enforcement action for now. And the hope was, maybe they'll come up with some sort of legislation or something. But when you award illegal behavior, it just brings more illegal behavior. Now look, after they awarded DACA to a lot of them, I think the original number was 800,000, but it got to be a lot bigger than that. We sent a clear message. Bring your child as long as it's no fault of his own, we're going to give you some sort of status. DACA started the family surge and the UAC surge, unaccompanied alien child, coming across because they want to be the next DACA recipients. I'm telling you right now, yesterday's family group that came across the border is tomorrow's DACA. The sad thing is this country has shown over and over again you can enter this country illegally, you can even get an order to be removed but if you hang out long enough in hiding, we're going to give you something.
Even right now with the Biden immigration plan, what's the award amnesty? He's going to give amnesty to people who cross the border illegally, which is a crime. They had due process at great taxpayer expense. A federal judge ordered them removed and they became a fugitive. And what's the consequence for that? They're going to give them amnesty. So DACA was the beginning and I said when they award it, you're going to see a family surge like you've never seen before and UACs coming, and that's what happens. That's what started all of it in my opinion.
Guiney: So Trump gets in and what does he do to create this record low of border crossings?
Homan: He let us do our job. He nominated me as the ICE director. I was actually retired, I was retiring. They actually called me the day of my retirement and asked me to stay at ICE. I was third in command at ICE at the time. The day of my retirement, they called me and asked me to stay and be the director. My first meeting with Trump, I asked him, "What are my marching orders?" He says, "Enforce the law the way you're supposed to." Congress created the law, they enacted the laws, the laws were signed by President. We want you to enforce the law, which you have not been allowed to do in the last eight years. So we simply enforced the laws as written. And I tell you, if the Biden administration would just enforce the laws on the books, they wouldn't have this problem. But they're not enforcing the laws, they're ignoring the laws, I think they're actually violating some of the laws.
So he just said, "Do your job," and that's what we did. But even when people say that the Trump administration was inhumane and we just out raiding neighborhoods and arresting everyone we could find, that's simply not true. If you look at under the Trump administration, if you look at under my leadership at ICE, the data clearly shows almost nine out of 10 people we arrested at ICE had a criminal history or criminal convictions. That's pretty good prioritization, nine out of 10. And people would say, "What's the other 10%?" The other 10% were either fugitives that we found or they were collateral arrest.
What do you mean by collateral arrest? Most of the collateral arrests happen in sanctuary cities because we can't arrest a bad guy in the jail that has a criminal conviction. We're still going to go find him, so you have to go to the neighborhood and find him. And when we find him in the neighborhood, we're probably going to find others with him that we're not going to turn a blind eye to. Like I say, nine out of 10 were criminals and that other 10% being fugitives or collaterals and people always argue, how do you improve on that priority? And sanctuary cities, let us get the bad guys in jail and that would cut down the number of collaterals.
So the Trump administration, the prioritization was right. So those who say that we raided neighborhoods, it's simply not true. Everybody that was arrested on a fugitive operations worksheet, the agents know exactly where they're going and who they're looking for. It's not a blind enforcement, it's not a raid or sweeping the neighborhoods. We went out there with a purpose of who we're looking for and where we might be able to find them and nine out of 10 prioritization, it's better than the current administration's doing now.
So we did the right thing and that was interior enforcement. And of course on the border, Congress was not moving on enacting legislation that would help close the loopholes. I've been arguing on the Hill all through the Obama administration and the Trump administration there's three simple loopholes that if Congress would close would solve the border crisis, at least 85% of it.
There's three. There's TVPRA, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. That's for children, had a great cause. When a child comes across the border under 18, we have to ascertain is he a victim of trafficking? If they're not, they should be returned. But if they are, there's a whole bunch of rights they get. So it had great meaning, but they found the loophole and the loophole is this. The way the law is currently written, if you're a child from Mexico or Canada and you enter the United States illegally and we ascertain you're not a victim of trafficking, you can be immediately removed to your home country. However, from any other country, we can't remove you. You get a whole new set of, it takes years to go through the process, you're allowed to stay in the United States. If they would close that loophole and treat children from Central America the same way they treat children from Mexico, you'd see the UAC's stop coming.
Also, the Florida Settlement Agreement that has through the family units. I told you under the Obama administration, we detained families about 40 days. Not in a detention facility but a family residential center, it was kind of like a campus setting, and it took about 40 days. 90% of them didn't qualify. They were ordered removed and we removed them.
But then the Ninth Circuit, Judge Dolly Gee all of a sudden said, you can only detain them for 20 days now. That's what she decided because the affidavit said it takes about 20 days to ascertain who they really are. She said okay, at that point, you need to let them go. We explained it takes about 40 days to see a judge. If you release them at 20, they don't see a judge and they probably will never see a judge. There's only one way you can guarantee they see a judge, only one way you can guarantee due process is to hold them. She said no, 20 days. In my affidavit to that federal judge I said if you do this, you're going to see the number of families explode come across this border. Of course I was called a fearmonger. What happened? Well, we see what happened. The families exploded.
So if they would fix that loophole and let us hold them long enough to see a judge. If they're really escaping fear and persecution and death and torture from the homeland, they should have no problem sitting 40 days in a family residence center waiting to see that judge and making a case. That's loophole number three.
The third loophole is the asylum loophole. When you cross the border and you say those magic words, the threshold for proof is so low on purpose because they don't want to accidentally send someone home to be persecuted by their government or tortured. But they made it too low. So the few questions that are asked during that first interview, the cartel's teach them what to say. You say the right thing, you pass the first interview. However, when you finally get to a judge if you show up in court, the level of proof, the threshold of proof is much higher.
So not exaggerating, about 90% will pass the first interview on the border and you get to immigration court, over 90% fail because the thresholds are so much different. So what we asked, make the first interview have the same level of proof as the judicial interview, it only makes sense. So if they closed those three loopholes, you'll stop asylum abuse, you'll stop the trafficking of children, and you'll stop the family groups from coming across. Those three things would solve the problem but since Congress wouldn't work with the president, since they couldn't get anything done, the president established a group, a bunch of executive orders based on our input, my input, the border patrol's input, career guys who got 30 years in, we told him what we needed and he did it through executive action because we couldn't get congress to act.
Guiney: I want to get your thoughts on a couple incidents or media pieces that people might be aware of but didn't get the full story on. There's been various conversations over time about these so-called kids in cages.
Homan: The cages were built under Obama administration, I was there. And they're not cages, they're chain link dividers. When the facilities we first built in the Obama administration, again, Obama decided to detain family units and UACs, children had to be turned to OR, but they had to be processed first and we held them in custody about 72 hours per law before they get turned over to health and human services. So when all these people are coming, we get a surge that we had to hold all these people. So how do you protect the children from unrelated adults?
So in the facility, the contractor put up a chain link fence, the same chain link fence you see in playgrounds. It was just a chain link fence that separated the children from the unrelated adults. That was for the protection of the children. And of course we used them during the entire Obama administration, but it became the Trump administration and their cages. It's politics at its worst. But they were constructed under the Obama administration but to be clear, they weren't cages. They were chain link dividers keeping children safe from unrelated adults.
That's a story that when that first came out, I was one of the first guys that I actually worked for Fox and I came out saying, oh this, they're not cages first of all and second of all, the facilities we're talking about were built under the Obama administration. I was there, I saw them being constructed, I was there when we opened the facility so I'm well aware of it.
Guiney: Another thing that got a lot of play in the media during especially the 2016 election was the border wall that was part of Trump's platform. Can you talk about the border wall?
Homan: Let's talk about the border wall. The border wall was not Trump's idea, the border wall idea came from the men and women of the border patrol. We've always wanted a barrier for two reasons. Number one, a barrier will help slow down those crossing illegally and second of all, for the most vulnerable, the women, the children, the family units, they can't climb that wall, so that will funnel them to a place where there's not a wall, which the border patrol could staff that end of that funnel and be able to respond to any humanitarian concerns, any health concerns, which are many. Like I said, based on my career, the sickness and death I saw, it will funnel the most vulnerable people to a place where they can cross and there's border patrol standing by ready.
So the border walls came from the men and women who served on that border for many years, including myself. When Trump built the wall, a lot of politicians spoke out against it. The same politicians who voted for border walls in the past, the Secure Fence Act 216, who voted for that? President Biden did when he was a senator. Barack Obama did. Hillary Clinton did. Chuck Schumer did.
All these people that are badmouthing the border wall voted for it as a senator but all of a sudden because Trump's president and Trump's bringing it to the table, all of a sudden border walls are, they don't work and they're terrible, they're inhumane. Let me be clear, border walls save lives because again, the most vulnerable people can't climb that wall, they're going to be funneled where they're probably going to be found by border Patrol and they can take care of whatever issues they have, including health issues. Border walls work.
You know what really upset me? One day the White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki was asked by a reporter why did you stop constructing the border wall? She said because the border wall wasn't working. Doesn't work, it was not successful, which was a stone-cold lie. If you go to the CBP website, you can see that every place they built a wall, every place, 100% of the time, it decreased illegal immigration, decreased drug flow. Now is it the end-all the be-all? No. There's certain guys that can scale that wall. But with the new wall, the smart wall, if you scale it, we're going to know about it. If you dig under it, we're going to know about it. I'm not going to tell you how we know about it, but the new wall's a smart wall and the technology, there are people that can get over it, but most people can't and walls save lives.
Guiney: And the idea isn't always to stop somebody wholesale.
Homan: To slow them down. Border wall's meant to slow people down and even though it's a crime to cross, like I said, we'll know if they climb it, it gives us time to respond. But border walls work. Every place they built a border barrier, illegal immigration went down, illegal drug problems went down without exception. But this administration wants to say border walls don't work.
Guiney: One of the big hallmarks of Trump's border management was the migrant protection protocols or the so-called Remain in Mexico policy. Can you talk about what that is for people who might not be familiar?
Homan: The Remain in Mexico program was probably the biggest game changer in the Trump administration. What simply it is, if you're going to claim asylum, you're going to wait outside the country in Mexico until your hearing rather than being released into the United States. Because like I just said, half of them won't show up to court, even if they lose the case, they don't leave. They're just going to wait for the next giveaway, next amnesty, next DACA or whatever.
So when I met with President Trump, we talked about that and when I talked to him about the data that nearly nine out of 10 never get relief, they simply don't qualify. And if you look at the Homeland Security's Life Cycle Report, which is a secretary's report, been out last decade, it clearly shows you out of that nine out of 10 that lose their case, how many leave when they get order of removal? The report tells you if they're UAC, they'll leave 3% of the time, their family leaves 6% of the time. So when President Trump's made aware of this he says, "Wait a minute now. So nine out of 10 people that claim asylum at the board never get relief, they don't qualify, don't show up?" "Correct." "And 3 to 6% leave, that 90%?" "Yeah, that's it." "So why do we keep releasing them? Why can't we have a hearing, keep them outside the country?"
So that conversation happened, that was a game changer. So there's still a lot of people who claim asylum, but they'd wait in Mexico. And here's what I'll say, if you're really escaping fear and persecution from Honduras, now asylum is escaping fear and persecution from your home government because of race, religion, political affiliation, and participation in certain social groups. So if you're really escaping a fear of persecution, death and torture from your home country and you're in Honduras, but you get to Mexico, have you not escaped that fear and persecution from your home country? You're not there anymore.
So Remain in Mexico simply said, you've escaped the danger, now you'll wait for your hearing. And it was a game changer because when people saw all these people, I won't say all because that's a statement you can never prove, but the vast majority of these people come to the border and claim asylum, they know they don't qualify. And as a matter of fact, you see the multiple media reports down there and they ask why they're coming and they're coming for a better life and I get that. They're coming to get a job, I get that. They're coming to get a better life for their families, I get that. But none of that qualifies under the asylum statute. They found the loophole they're going to use to get into the United States.
So the Remain in Mexico program was a game changer. When people around the world started seeing they weren't being released in the United States, they were being held in Mexico, they stopped coming because they know they're not going to be released into the United States to do whatever, not show up or become a fugitive. It was a game changer.
On top of that, he put a Third Safe Country Agreement in which built upon Remain in Mexico which has said this, if he made three central Americas agree to go to Mexico. If you leave your country that you're claiming asylum from and you get to a free country, you are to claim asylum in that country because you obviously escaped the fear and persecution from your home government. You're not there anymore.
Those two things were a game changer for this administration. Those two things were found legal by the federal courts, meaning he was sued under Mexico. The federal court said no, that's a legal program. And what's really sad is this administration could turn it on tomorrow. Matter of fact, the federal government ordered them to turn it on, they just didn't do it. And I've never seen an administration just deny a federal court's order and just don't do it. Well if they turn the Remain in Mexico program tomorrow, you would solve 80% of the border problem right now.
Guiney: What was the effect under Trump once it came in in terms of numbers?
Homan: We had a 40 to 45-year low in illegal immigration depending on what timeframe you're looking at. Illegal immigration was down an average of 83%. If you look where the border wall was built, it was down over 90%. Unprecedented success. If we would've been allowed, if Trump would've been reelected, we would've been allowed to finish the wall and get Congress to enact a few changes. We'd have the most secure border in history of this nation. But now we went, what upsets me, we went from the most secure border in my lifetime to historic illegal immigration, historic fentanyl drug flow that's killed 106,000 Americans. Historic alien deaths, migrant deaths on the border. Historic U.S. citizen deaths, historic sex trafficking of women, historic number of known suspected terrorists coming across the border. They went from most secure border to what they have now, this chaos. And again, by design.
Guiney: From a policy perspective, was there anything else that Trump did that was very impactful towards that success?
Homan: Yeah, he wanted Mexico to join on the Remain in Mexico program. They didn't want to. They convinced them to do it. He wasn't going to take no for an answer. Mexico needs United States more than we need them on trade. And last year Mexico got $61 billion in remittance payments from people living here illegally and sent money back to Mexico. So Mexico had financing for them. Illegal immigration is good for them. But President Trump got Mexico to put military on their northern-southern border. It's against the law of Mexico to smuggle people. It's against the law of Mexico to traffic women and children, but they didn't enforce it. It's against the law in Mexico to transit through the country if you're from another country without a transit visa, but they allowed it. President Trump says, "Stop. You're going to enforce your immigration laws like we are. You're going to put people on your northern-southern border and stop this illegal migrant surge." And they said no. Then he said, then I'll tariff the hell out of you getting into the billions of dollars, all of a sudden they're more than ready to come to the table.
He did the same thing with three Central American countries on Third Safe Country Agreements. They didn't want to do that and they weren't... For instance, El Salvador wasn't taking back their people once a judge ordered them removed. But people don't know, we can't deport people to their home country, we actually have to get approval to remove them to their home country and get a travel document. Like El Salvador was famous for not taking their people back, especially the criminals.
So President Trump, he asked me how we dealt with it before. I said, well, prior administration always sent millions of dollars down there to create opportunities for people who have no reason to leave and they didn't pay a lot of money for the travel documents. I remember President Trump saying, "I'm not going pay a dime. Matter of fact, I'll take money away." So this current administration right now again, sending millions of dollars down there that won't get to the right place, it'll never get to where it's needed because the corruption of those countries are incredible.
So President Trump called those three countries and says, "This is how much foreign aid you get, it ends if you don't agree to do this, this and that." And they did it. I've said it many times, President Trump, he got things done because he wouldn't soft you. It was America first, he knew what was happening, it's destroying not only our borders, but many of our cities, displacing American workers, driving down wages, social services being overwhelmed, hospitals, trauma centers, schools, the judicial system.
A lot of criminals come across and people say, "President Trump says everybody comes across the border are criminals." Let's be clear, not everybody comes across are criminals, but I'll say this: In the last two years, border patrol has arrested over 87,000 convicted criminals, over 100 homicides. So criminals do come across that border, gang members come across that border, known suspected terrorists come across that border. So Trump was a game changer. He demanded these countries take action, he would give them a consequence. And I learned as a kid in my family, bad behavior, there's a consequence and if there's not a consequence, you're going to keep doing it. Well, my dad was pretty tough. I did something wrong believe me, I got a consequence and I didn't do it again. And as simple as that sounds, bad behavior is not going to change unless there's a consequence, unless there's deterrence and that's what Trump did.
Guiney: So the common response from the left towards any reform towards border security is that it's racist. What's your response to that?
Homan: That's ridiculous. I said it when I was ICE director, I'm an equal-opportunity deporter. I deported people to 170 countries including Europe, Asia, Central America, South America. We deported people when I was at ICE, we deported people to 170 different countries. People aren't deported based on their race, people are deported based on their immigration status. It's clear and it's simple. They always like to throw the race card out and it works sometimes, but it doesn't work with me because I know what we do. Look, I said this many times when I was ICE director, of course I got a lot of hate. Got a lot of protests at my house, death threats against me and my family. And I testified and I remember one congressman said that my testimony was bigoted, that I was a bigot. And I looked at him and I think, "Okay, if I'm a racist for enforcing immigration law, what's that make you? You wrote it." ICE officers aren't making this up, they're enforcing laws enacted by Congress so if they're racist for enforcing immigration law, what's that make Congress?
It's not racist. It's about national security, it's about protecting our sovereignty. Look, it'd be great if we could take care of the whole world, we simply can't do it. We can't be the welfare nation for the entire world. Nations need to take responsibility for their people. And some of these countries are very well off. Like I said, billions of dollars go to Mexico every year. Millions of dollars go to Central America every year. The money needs to get to people that need it. But I'll say this. For being a racist country, the bottom number, look at the numbers. We are the most free given nation in the world. We welcome more asylum seekers, we welcome more refugees than any country in the world by far. We probably do more than the next 10 countries combined.
So this nation is not racist. Our immigration laws, we're very giving as a country in this world. We're the first one to step up to the fight of any famine, first one to step up to the fight on any humanitarian concerns that happen around the world. I'm proud to be American. This country, especially the immigration laws, they're not racist. They're based on law. They're based on protecting this nation from foreign threats. We have a right. You can't be a country without, President Reagan said, I think, "You're not a country if you don't have borders." Every nation has borders, every nation enforces the borders. But as a nation who's hated by many other countries, as we know from 9/11, we have a right to know who comes in this country. We have a right to know who they are and why they come to this country. We have a right to know that and that's what basically we're doing.
So I push back on anybody who says enforcing immigration law is racist. It's just again, throwing the race card out because they got no better argument. I don't think this administration's going to change. I hope and pray this administration is out of office in the next election because we cannot continue down this road. Many people ask me, "Why do you think they did this? Why do you think they would just open the border up and just result in record number Americans dying from fentanyl overdose and record number migrants dying making the trip, record number of women being sexually assaulted, record number of known suspected terrorists."
It goes on and on and the only thing I can think of is, because I ask Democrats on the Hill all the time, can you name one downside on a secure border? Name a downside. Less illegal immigration, is that a downside? Less death on the border, is that a downside? Less fentanyl coming across, is that a downside? Less money in the cartel's hands, is that a downside? Less children drowning in rivers, is that a downside? Less fentanyl getting in the country, is that a downside? Name a downside of a secure border. I truly believe a secure border saves lives. That's why when I wrote the book I retired, Defend the Border And Save Lives. A secure border saves lives. If less people are coming, less people die, less people put themselves in the hands of criminal cartels.
But when this administration came in into power, they made promises. We'll put a moratorium on deportations. We're going to have amnesty, we're going to give you free healthcare, where you're not going to be detained. When you make those type of promises, the most vulnerable people in the world are going to put themselves in the hands of criminal cartels to come to this country and many will be sexually assaulted and die. I don't think this administration's going to change tactics. I think they'll continue down this road for the next two years and I just pray that we get the White House back and start to enforce immigration laws because this country is less safe.
I'll say this, despite everything I've said, the most scary thing in the world to me, 1.8 million people got away and that's the known number based on recordings and drone traffic. Why did 1.8 million people not turn themselves into border patrol, not get flown to the city of their choice at government expense, not get a work authorization while they fight their case for five or six years. Why did you not take advantage of that giveaway program for less money? Why did you pay more money to get away and be smuggled to New York, Chicago, or many other cities Why did you pay more money to get away?
Simple. They didn't want to be vetted, they didn't want to be fingerprinted. That should scare the hell out of everybody. With over 200 known suspected terrorists arrested I'm telling you, there is no doubt. A known suspected terrorists didn't enter the country through this open border, I don't know how many, but someday we're going to find out and it's going to be a bad day for America. This is the biggest national security failure since 9/11, I truly believe that and someday we're going to pay the price. That's why we need to take the White House back and enforce immigration laws.
Speaker: If somebody that hadn't been progressively exposed to this for 30 years, they probably couldn't live here. We got a gun at every door, we got a gun under the bed, we sleep with two dogs, that's our alarm. Just the way you look. When you go out in the morning, you check what's in your truck. Is somebody laying in my truck or under the truck or in my wife's car or are they out here? Well, I'm not going to leave but every once in a while you think, why are we putting up with this? And it's not so much us individually, it's why is America putting up with this crap?
Guiney: That's a good question and you're in the right place to have it answered. Stick with us for the rest of our series here on Heritage Explains, where we talk about what we can do legislatively to deal with the crisis at our southern border. Special thanks to Laura Reis, Tom Homan and John Ladd for their contributions to this episode.
As always, thank you for listening to Heritage Explains. If you have any thoughts, questions, or suggestions for our show, you can email us at [email protected]. Next week we'll be talking about the transition from Trump to Biden with someone who experienced it first-hand, Heritage visiting fellow Mark Morgan, who was acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Trump administration. It's a great interview, you're not going to want to miss it. We'll see you then.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It's written and produced by Mark Guiney, Lauren Evans, and John Popp, production assistance by Alexa Walker and Jeff Smith. Special thanks to Dr. Kevin Roberts.