News Brief: President Trump's Immigration Approach

Jun 25, 2018
Originally published on June 25, 2018 7:10 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

He holds the most powerful office in America. But when writing about immigrants on Twitter yesterday, President Trump declared that the country has been humiliated.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The president said, without evidence, that, quote, "our immigration policy is laughed at all over the world." He said, quote, "we cannot allow these people to invade our country." He called on migrants to be deported immediately with no judges or court cases. Now, the president's demands did not come with any concrete policy proposals, but they did seize attention for immigration, which he has said should be his party's big issue in this fall's election. The many responses over the weekend included one from Justin Amash, Republican congressman from Michigan, who wrote the following words on Twitter. (Reading) No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. That is a quote from the Constitution.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you start us off with a little civics refresher here? I think the moment calls for it. Exactly who is protected by due process rights under U.S. law?

HORSLEY: Well, everyone in the country is protected, Rachel. The Supreme Court has ruled explicitly that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment that Congressman Amash quoted there covers every person in the United States, including immigrants who crossed the border illegally.

MARTIN: Anyone on U.S. soil, not just American citizens.

HORSLEY: That's right. Now, the president finds that frustrating, but the law is clear. Of course, you know, due process can be time-consuming, and that's what creates these headaches for the administration because of, say, the time limits on detaining young people. The Justice Department has been surging judges to the border and taking other steps to try to expedite the process. But here, you see, the president would rather take a shortcut and just deport people immediately.

MARTIN: But, as you mentioned, there is a way to expedite this. This is actually called expedited removal that allows for some people to be deported without a hearing, and this has been happening under previous administrations, too.

HORSLEY: That's right. But the law says expedited removal does not apply to someone who makes an asylum claim or who claims to be fleeing persecution. And the administration considers that an inconvenient loophole and complains that those claims of persecution have soared in recent years. That is, however, the state of the law today.

MARTIN: Can we talk about family reunifications, which has been in the headlines over the last few days? Because initially, the federal government said, there is no plan, essentially, to reunite any of the families that had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Now that's apparently changed. The Department of Homeland Security says they've got a plan now? What's in it?

HORSLEY: Well, what they've published is less a plan than a promise. Both the family separation policy and now the family reunification policy have been carried out rather haphazardly. And, to be fair, the Homeland Security Department and the Health and Human Services Department, which are responsible for this, have had to respond to rapidly changing guidance from the White House with little or no notice. There was a lot of confusion last week when the president abruptly canceled the family separation policy and said family should be kept together. At the same time, he said he wanted to continue with 100 percent prosecution of migrants who cross the border illegally. So the Homeland Security Department insists that they are now going about the business of reunification and that it's well-coordinated and that families are being kept well-informed. The reports we're getting from the ground suggest that that's something of an overstatement.

MARTIN: OK. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

MARTIN: So meanwhile, federal prosecutors are following orders to prosecute everyone caught crossing the border, and it's not easy to find judges to hear all of these cases. Here's Republican Senator Jeff Flake talking to ABC's "This Week" yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS")

JEFF FLAKE: Given the lack of infrastructure of judges to process these claims, it's really a big mess.

INSKEEP: It's also a strain to find prosecutors. USA Today quotes Justice Department officials who say the administration's zero tolerance policy is having a dangerous and presumably unintended consequence, a diversion of resources away from more serious criminals like drug smugglers. In other words, there are fewer resources for the very sort of people that President Trump points to when explaining his strict border policy.

MARTIN: Brad Heath is a reporter with USA Today, and he uncovered this story and joins us now. Hey, Brad.

BRAD HEATH: Good morning.

MARTIN: So you got your hands on this memo that was sent by a Justice Department official in San Diego. And this memo said that his office - that this office was diverting resources from drug-smuggling cases to handle all of these low-level immigration cases. What more can you tell us about what's happening, or at least what this memo says?

HEATH: Yeah. That's right. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Southern California, in San Diego, sent an email in May, a couple days after the start of the zero tolerance initiative, saying it was doing two things. First it was taking resources away from these smuggling cases. So when the Border Patrol searches a car at one of the ports of entry and finds drugs, they were taking attorneys away from handling those cases, and they were also putting some really strict new limits on that would make it difficult for Homeland Security, for the Border Patrol, for ICE to bring those cases into federal court.

MARTIN: Why? I mean, why would that be happening?

HEATH: Because the attorney general ordered the Justice Department to prosecute a hundred percent, every adult caught crossing the border illegally, and that turns out to be thousands and thousands of caseloads. So the U.S. attorney's office was looking at that and thinking there (inaudible)...

MARTIN: Sorry, Brad. Your line's a little dodgy. Can you start over? The U.S. attorney's office was looking at that, and, what did they see in that order?

HEATH: Yeah. The U.S. attorney's office was looking at the order from the attorney general to prosecute every adult who crossed the border illegally, and it looked to them like their workload was about to quadruple.

MARTIN: So they've diverted resources. They don't have enough lawyers, enough prosecutors, judges to tackle all the drug crime because they've been putting so much money and manpower into the immigration cases. What's the upshot of that? I mean, if the federal courts are too burdened to prosecute these more serious drug crimes, what happens to those potential criminals?

HEATH: There's evidence that instead of bringing these cases into federal court, the Border Patrol and ICE are taking them to state prosecutors, as well. So we talked to the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, and they told us the number of cases they're getting from ICE has more than doubled, and a lot of these are pretty significant drug cases, sometimes involving - usually involving more than a kilogram.

MARTIN: And when they go to state judges instead of at the federal level, are they getting different sentences?

HEATH: Yeah. The rub of state court is that the sentences are typically far less harsh than you could get in the federal system.

MARTIN: All right. Brad Heath. He's a reporter with USA Today. Thanks so much for sharing your reporting with us. We appreciate it.

HEATH: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. We go now to Turkey, where the man who has led that country for the past 15 years has just won another five years in office, and he's acquired a new set of powers along the way.

INSKEEP: Yeah. This is according to unofficial returns. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took more than half the vote in a six-person contest, avoiding a runoff and securing another term.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul, where he's been following all of this closely. Hey, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So he pulled it off. I guess that was expected, though, wasn't it?

KENYON: Well, yeah. He was definitely favored. And it unfolded as many Turkish elections do since he came to power - very early returns, very heavily pro-Erdogan, and then that lead shrinks bit by bit as the urban centers weigh in later in the evening. But this time, his margin never fell below 50 percent. The anti-Erdogan vote was divided among a handful of challengers, and the opposition also said the election wasn't exactly fair - candidates had trouble getting to their events, the largely pro-government media paid mostly attention to Erdogan. But in his victory speech, Erdogan said the people had chosen. Eighty-seven percent turnout, he said, was a sign of a healthy Turkish democracy. The official election board has given the vote its blessing. So Erdogan is ready for another swearing-in.

MARTIN: Is Turkey's democracy so healthy? I mean, he's accrued all these new powers. What exactly are those?

KENYON: It is a very different system. He is the first strong executive president for Turkey. He takes over the powers of the prime minister. In some ways, the new system has echoes in the U.S. - the strong president - except the institutional checks and balances here that could rein-in a president's power - the judiciary, strong media, legislature - are weaker here. His supporters say, that's OK, Turkey needs a strong leader. But the leading opposition candidate says Turkey is now a one-man regime, there's little to stop Erdogan from amassing even more power. And his ruling party, with an alliance partner of Turkish nationalists, will also have a comfortable ruling majority in parliament.

MARTIN: What does he want to do with this next term? I mean, especially on foreign policy? Has he given any indications about which direction he wants to go?

KENYON: He has talked about it. And judging by his speech last night, people are expecting basically more of the same. He promised to keep on fighting terrorism, singling-out Kurdish militants and those he blames for a 2016 failed coup here. He also said they'll carry on with the fight next door in Syria in hopes of returning some of the 3 million refugees here back to their homes. Domestically, people are hoping he'll keep one campaign promise, to lift the state of emergency that's been in place since 2016.

MARTIN: Just briefly, Peter, what happens to the opposition? Those candidates who are running against him, did they create a movement that lives on beyond this moment?

KENYON: They may have. They were very strong candidates. They didn't win this time, but some analysts say it could tilt the playing field in future elections.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting from Istanbul on the election results, where Erdogan has won yet another victory in that country. Hey, Peter, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.