Aboard Air Force One
En Route Ronkonkoma, New York
12:57 P.M. EDT
MR. MILLER: Hello, everybody. So were just going to do a very quick on-the-record about the MS-13 event. It’s a short flight. We’re going to be starting our descent soon, so I’m just going to talk real quick, answer a few questions, give you some color for your stories, and then I’m going to go back.
So our big focus on MS-13 is getting the resources we need to accomplish to the mission. What does that mean? It means we need more ICE officers. We’ve got Tom Homan, who you heard from yesterday — he’s just sitting a few rows away from me, right over there — and we have about 5,000-plus enforcement and removal officers in the country. That’s not nearly enough to police an immigration system as large and expansive as ours, or to deal with the fact that you have tens of thousands of folks from the recent wave of Central America who’ve disappeared. We don’t know where they are. We have to send people out to find them. It’s an enormous burden. And 5,000 EROs is just not enough to do it.
We also need to get expedited removal for illegal migrants from Central America, so you don’t have a situation where you show up, you get an NTA — a notice to appear — and then you just sort of disappear. That also means we need to get the court backlog down; it’s about 6,000 cases right now. So we need more immigration judges, and of course you need more prosecutors so you can actually put MS-13 and other cartels in jail.
And, finally, we need the border wall and other border infrastructure — sensors, towers, you name it.
So those are the big legislative pieces. But obviously, administratively, we talked about this in the last couple days — Tom talk about it too — but if you’re a gang member, we’re going to find you and we’re going to remove you. You don’t have to have to additional items on your record. If you’re a gang member and you’re here illegally, then you’re going home. That is a major policy change, and that’s one of the reasons why we’re having so much success in depleting the ranks of the cartels and the gangs. But obviously we’re going to need Congress in both parties to step up and provide these extra resources.
So that’s all I have to say, and then I’ll take any questions you have about this.
Q So, today, in Geneva, the International Organization for Migration held a briefing and said that the impact of this “get tough” approach, without deterrent measures, is pushing migrants, pushing illegal immigrants into more dangerous routes and actually fueling the coffers of gangs and transnational organizations. And I’m wondering if you’re concerned about that as well, and if there are, sort of, initiatives that you’re going to be taking that deal with deterrence in that aspect, as well.
MR. MILLER: I would associate myself closely with the comments that Tom Homan gave at the press briefing yesterday, which is that a message of tolerance toward illegal immigration is the number-one boon to smugglers and traffickers. And we’ve seen the results of that over the last eight years in terms of massive human rights violations associated with the Central American migrant surge, in terms of a humanitarian catastrophe playing out across the region.
And so that permissive approach, we’ve seen the results, and the results have been deadly and horrific. By sending a message that you won’t tolerate illegal immigration, it will shut down the smugglers. We’ve already seen a huge increase in the price that people have to pay to get smuggled, which, in and of itself is an enormous deterrent. And Secretary Kelly has worked to go into the region and to send the message that it’s not safe to come; that if you will come, you will be returned. And he’s working cooperatively with the governments in the region to help make sure that message is sent to migrants. And, ultimately, that is the most humanitarian approach.
Q With all this focus on measures that the administration can do — take towards immigration, has the President gotten closer to a decision on DACA?
MR. MILLER: Right now, as you know, there’s an ongoing threat of litigation about DACA. And Secretary Kelly is working with the Justice Department on dealing with that. I don’t have any news to make about it today, but I would say that our administration, from a policy standpoint, remains resolutely focused on protecting jobs, wages, and security for American citizens. And when we have further announcements on that, we will make them.
Q Nikki Haley I think is traveling here. What is her role in this? Is she going to be giving any remarks ahead of the President? Or is she just here to, sort of, make a show about the U.N.’s role in migration?
MR. MILLER: Well, I mean, in addition to any role — and there, of course, is some with respect to the United Nations and global migration issues — obviously, the President of the United States, at all times of the day, is working on the many different foreign policy issues facing our country, and I’m sure that they’re discussing those on a variety of different fronts.
Q Given the challenges of healthcare, trying to get legislation through, have you given any new thought to the strategy for how you’re going to get through funding for a wall, or money for new ICE agents, given that Democrats are united in opposition to that kind of legislation?
MR. MILLER: That’s a great question. That’s actually — that’s a good one to end on, so I can make a really strong statement for everybody.
If Senate Democrats try to block the funding we need to protect our nation from criminals, drug dealers, cartels, and terrorists, it will cause an uproar from the American people. And they will pay a steep political price.
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