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How Trump’s border decisions represent ‘completely new’ American policy

As immigration policy takes center stage, we analyze the administration's recent moves on border closures and asylum requests. Scott Shuchart worked on immigration for the Department of Homeland Security under both President Obama and President Trump. He's now a senior immigration fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Washington Post contributor, and he joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported earlier, thousands of Central American migrants seeking legal asylum in the United States were met with tear gas at a closed border as they attempted to cross into Southern California this weekend.

    Amna Nawaz is back with a closer look at the Trump administration's immigration policies.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    For that, I'm joined by Scott Shuchart. He worked on immigration enforcement for the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties during both the Obama and Trump administrations.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Scott Shuchart:

    Good to be here. Thanks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I should mention you're a senior immigration fellow at the Center for American Progress now, no longer with the government.

    I want to ask you about at the events over the weekend and some of what you saw during your time with the government. You have heard the president refer to what is happening at the border again and again as a crisis. He cites the rising asylum numbers. He cited the caravan a number of times.

    You have worked at the government. Based on what you have seen right now, is this a crisis?

  • Scott Shuchart:

    Well, it's clearly an attempt to manufacture something that would qualify as a crisis. It's not clear to me that it would need to be a crisis, if it were managed appropriately.

    There have been lines at the ports of entry in times past. Those can be managed with additional resources. In the past, migrants would be processed for asylum both at these ports of entry and also between them if they cross over and apprehended by Border Patrol.

    And then there was a Trump administration policy, the one you mentioned in your story that was enjoined by the judge last week, that unlawfully tries to deny asylum to people who cross in those other ways. So there has been an effort to align policy in a way that would drive things to a level that would at least look like a crisis.

    It seems to coincide with the election. And we are where we are.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The images so many people saw of women with children fleeing some of the tear gas and the effects are very disturbing.

  • Scott Shuchart:

    Unquestionably.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But I want to ask you about something that an official from the Border Patrol said earlier today, which was that, look, we were being attacked to some degree, that the pictures are misleading, that the vast majority in this crowd, this official said, were men, and that when Border Patrol officials were receiving rocks and other things thrown at them, they had to act to disperse the crowd.

    What's your reaction to that?

  • Scott Shuchart:

    Well, there's a long history of Border Patrol using questionable levels of force to deflect threats that they perceive from across the wall.

    There have been cases at the Supreme Court about rock throwing being met with lethal levels of force. And so that is certainly consistent with the Border Patrol's traditional approach to use a very high level of force to meet what seems to be — in other contexts basically to be civil disobedience.

    I wasn't there, and I don't know the particular facts of this encounter. But it's certainly the case that Border Patrol has looked to force-related solutions at times where civil rights officials and other outside observers have encouraged them to look for ways of de-escalating conflicts.

    And this doesn't seem to be a case where all of the possible forms of de-escalation would have been pursued.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we have heard the president also say again and again that these policies that we're seeing now are no different than the ones we saw under the Obama administration.

    You worked in both administrations. So is there a difference?

  • Scott Shuchart:

    I mean, it's just nonsense on stilts.

    There's no question that at no time did any other administration try to separate parents from children on purpose to create a deterrent. And it's been clear since early 2017 that that was what the administration wanted to do and then, in the spring of 2018, what it did when it chose to prosecute parents as a way of having a legal basis to separate the men from their child, because you can't send a child to prison, and then be able to send the children on one path, the parents on a different immigration path, and thereby to create a deterrent.

    I believe the president tweeted twice about this last night, and in the second tweet essentially conceded that that was what they were trying to do, while claiming that it's fake news to describe it as a different kind of policy.

    So it was an extremely different kind of policy. There have been crosscutting issues with families. Processing families who come to the border seeking asylum together is a logistical and a legal challenge in lots of ways. And some of those challenges have continued.

    But the idea that you would separate children from their parents to prove a point, to create a deterrent, to use the potential for trauma to those children as part of a policy agenda, that is completely new with this administration.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You know, big picture, one of the other reasons we hear from the administration a lot is, these are national security interests at play.

    And you, as part of your responsibility in your role in the government, your job was to protect the civil rights, civil liberties, make sure the policies we put into place didn't violate those.

    But we have come into this conflict before, right? After 9/11, there were a lot of policies that certainly, we would argue, violated civil rights and civil liberties. Go earlier into the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans.

    What do you say to people out there who look at these policies and think, this is keeping me safer?

  • Scott Shuchart:

    Well, the point of government is to keep us safe and to protect our constitutional way of life, right?

    When the Department of Homeland Security was stood up following 9/11, there was a recognition that there had been some civil rights abuses in the response to that. There was a civil rights office created where I worked in the department to pursue exactly that, because the idea was that what we are making safe, when the government uses force, when we invest in border security and everything else, is our way of life that goes along with our constitutional values.

    It's not just about life and property. It's also about the kind of people we want to be and the place that we want to live. And so, if we give all of that up to keep a couple thousand women and children on one side of the fence, rather than the other, what have we accomplished?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Scott Shuchart, thank you for being here.

  • Scott Shuchart:

    Thank you very much.

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