Washington Wednesday: Border security

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 23rd of January, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday.

And instead of talking border policy and government shutdown politics with a Washington-based expert: we turn today to an expert on the ground in Arizona.

On the line with me from Pima County, Arizona, is that county’s Sheriff, Mark Napier.

Pima County includes Tucson and some 125 miles of exposure to the international border. He’s been in law enforcement for more than three decades. Sheriff, I hope you can hear me okay and good morning to you.

NAPIER: I can hear you fine, and good morning. Great to be with you.

EICHER: Sheriff, you’ve been doing this a long time, so I’d like to start with what you’ve observed over the last three decades. How has the border issue changed?

NAPIER: Well, in many different ways. The nature of the drug war has changed fundamentally. We used to, if you go back 20 years, it was primarily marijuana coming across the deserts between the ports of entry. And now today the opiates, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine are primarily coming through the ports of entry, which is a new phenomenon. So the drug war has changed remarkably in the last 20 years.

As far as immigration goes, 20 years ago it used to be nearly all people coming across the border without documentation were single males and primarily from Mexico. Today we know that it’s more—a majority, in fact—are what we call OTMs, which is not a disparaging term, it just means “Other Than Mexican,” which means Central American from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and all over the world. And more and more frequently these are family units and children. So the nature of this has changed a great deal over the last 30 years.

EICHER: We’ve heard a lot about the use of the word crisis in all of this—crisis for Americans, crisis for migrants, crisis for border communities. The president has his emphasis, the Democrats have theirs.

So my question for you is two-fold: Is this correct? Is there a crisis at the border? And if you think so, tell me, a crisis for whom?

NAPIER: Well, I think if we can strip away all the rhetoric and all the heated emotion and all the partisan politics, any rational person looking at what’s going on in my part of the world would have to acknowledge there is a crisis. There’s a public safety crisis. It’s undeniable. Anybody that would argue there’s not a national security concern embedded in this—because we don’t know who’s coming across the border and we know that there are hostile nations with bad actors that would like to come to our country to do us harm. So it is a concern.

But then, finally, it’s a humanitarian crisis. I mean, just—it’s timely, unfortunately timely. Yesterday, my deputies recovered an additional five bodies in the deserts in my county. Yesterday. Who cannot argue that that’s a humanitarian crisis?

The victimization of migrants coming across the border is horrific. We know that women often are sexually assaulted. The president did not embellish that. The best estimate we have is about one-third of them are sexually assaulted. And too many of these people are dying.

So on three fronts: public safety, human rights, and national security, there is a crisis. You just have to strip away all of the rhetoric to get to that. And we absolutely have to do something about this.

EICHER: Well, Sheriff, I’m glad you returned to that idea that we need to strip away all of the rhetoric and just look at what actually works. Because I was going to come back and ask you, how likely do you think that is that that will happen?

NAPIER: You know, I wish I knew the answer to that. I am an elected official. So as a law enforcement officer, I’m kind of in a unique niche. I’m both a political figure, an elected official, and a law-enforcement professional. I would hope for the sake of young people in this country that people would remember why we sent them to Washington, D.C.

And if that would guide your thoughts more on both sides—and there’s enough blame to go around—if that would guide their thoughts, I think that we could move past this, because the disingenuous nature of this argument on many sides is almost dishonest to the point of malice. And that’s wrong.

We send you to Washington, D.C. for a reason. I have a 2-year-old granddaughter. If we don’t fix this, if we don’t move past this, if we don’t start sending the right people to D.C., I hazard to think what her world looks like when she’s in her late 50s.

EICHER: Okay, well let’s talk about the wall. The president insists that the wall is a key to solving the problem of illegal immigration. A key, not the key, but a key. In the past you have said, famously, that a wall is a medieval solution to a modern problem. But you’ve also said that a physical barrier is a tool that works. So, in your view, what role does a physical barrier play in all of this?

NAPIER: Well, remember that when the president was elected we were captioning the idea of a wall as being 30-feet high of concrete going 2,000 linear miles on the border. That somehow if we did that one thing, the problem would be solved. Well that, in fact, is a medieval solution to a modern problem, so I stand by that statement.

But that’s not what the president is saying now. The president’s plan has in it a 236 miles of additional physical barriers. In those areas that are the most vulnerable, primarily the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. And he’s going to support that with technology and human resources and other changes to the immigration system. More support for the address of immigration issues. More technology at the ports of entry.

So, the problem is we hear the words—and if I could just remove from our vernacular these two words and have nobody ever say them ever again, I would be happy—”the wall.” Let’s never say that again, because as soon as you say that, people on all sides of the issue stop listening. I do not support a wall going 2,000 miles on the international border because a wall that’s not monitored, a wall that’s not maintained, a wall that’s not enforced is only an impediment. It’s a nuisance.

So you’re still going to have to support it with technology and human resources, and that’s what the president’s talking about. It’s not “the wall.” If you listen to his plan, it includes much, much more than that. It’s a much more thoughtful approach.

And people might fault the president for some things he said early on. But I’ll tell you having become a sheriff, there’s not a manual that comes with this job. You learn. And I suspect being president is very similar. You learn as you go and you hear input from experts and then you modify your positions as you go along. And I think the president has done that, and that’s why I support his current position.

EICHER: Well, now, as I said at the beginning, you’ve been involved in this for three decades now, in law enforcement. You have seen that immigration has been an ongoing issue. Do you have the sense that our leaders will be able to solve this in a long-term sort of way?

NAPIER: Well, I’d like to believe in my country. We’re the country that put somebody on the moon. We’re the country that won World War II. We’re the country that survived a very divisive and damaging Civil War to become a better nation. You want to tell me that we can’t fix this? I reject that summarily. And so I do believe this can be solved, and I don’t believe it’s as complex as people make it out to be at all.

EICHER: Well, of course we have the benefit of history, the benefit of experience to see how we solve these insurmountable problems. I mean, in terms of putting a man on the moon, we know that takes rocket science. We don’t, maybe, know how to solve the immigration crisis. But I wonder, in broad strokes, what would do you think it looks like?

NAPIER: Well, I think the first thing you do is take care of the immediate problem and that’s provide security on our Southern border. We need to have complete, operational control over our Southern border.

And then you’re going to have to look at what we do with the 11 or 14 million—pick a number—number of people who are in this country without proper documentation.

And then we have to overhaul the immigration system in a way that makes it easier for people in parts of the world that are facing challenges that you and I cannot understand. That’s what pulls on my heartstrings as a Christian is there are people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, other parts of the world that are facing challenges we can’t imagine. We have a roof over our head. We have food in our stomachs. We live in a relatively safe part of the world. There are other people who don’t enjoy any of that. And they just want to come here for a better life. And we need to make that easier and more rational…

We had a great leader in John F. Kennedy who said we don’t do these things because they’re easy, we do them because they’re hard. And he said in 10 years we’ll put a man on the moon. Remember that the technology at the time was so antiquated that that seemed like such an impossibility from a hard science standpoint to do that. But we did it. This country has a great capacity to do good when it stops engaging in the silliness which we’re currently engaged in.

EICHER: Sheriff, I’ve enjoyed talking with you today and I hope we can check back in maybe in a few weeks, maybe a month, to see whether we’ve made some progress.

NAPIER: I would be happy to do so. Obviously I have a great passion for this. I care about my county, but moreover my country. And we need to put rational voices out there and solve difficult problems for the betterment of the American people. And we need to force that issue.

EICHER: Mark Napier is the sheriff of Pima County, Arizona. Sheriff, thank you for your time today.

NAPIER: Thank you.  

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File) In this Jan. 9, 2019, file photo, a man throws a ball for his dog next to the border wall topped with razor wire in Tijuana, Mexico. 

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