Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Crisis at Our Southern Border

Office of the Vice President
The White House

8:04 P.M. EDT

MR. GIDLEY:  Good evening and thanks for joining the briefing call tonight regarding the crisis at our southern border.  This call is on the record and it will be conducted by acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

There will be brief opening remarks delivered by both gentlemen and then we’ll open it up for questions.  Again, the information on this call is on the record.  And with that, I’ll turn it over to acting Secretary McAleenan.

ACTING SECRETARY MCALEENAN:  Thanks, Hogan.  I want to start by offering some context on the situation at the U.S. border that is requiring extraordinary action.  The situation is both a humanitarian and border security crisis that has become a national emergency.

The current influx of illegal crossings into the United States from Mexico is overwhelming the resources of CBP and DHS and has severely impacted the ability of the Department to secure the U.S. border and enforce the immigration laws of the United States. 

Over the past 21 days, an average of over 4,500 people have crossed our border illegally or arrived at ports of entry without documents.  In May of 2017, that number was less than 700 a day.  The month of May is on pace to be the highest month in crossings in over 12 years and will significantly surpass the record 109,000 in April.

Yesterday, a single group of 1,036 families and unaccompanied children simply walked from Juárez, Mexico into the United States illegally as a single group — the largest group ever apprehended at the border. 

U.S. immigration authorities now have over 80,000 people in custody, a record level that is beyond sustainable capacity with current resources.  Over 7,500 single adults are in custody at the border and Immigration and Customs Enforcement is holding over 50,000. 

Most urgently, children are being put in danger daily as transnational criminal organizations smuggle unprecedented numbers of families and children across our borders.  Over 2,350 unaccompanied children — the highest level ever — are currently in custody waiting for days for placements in border stations that cannot provide appropriate conditions for them because Health and Human Services is out of bed space and Congress has failed to act on the administration’s emergency supplemental request for more than four weeks. 

Four hundred children arrived in the last 24 hours alone.  Four of those children this month have died transiting through Mexico into the United States — two drowning in a river, both a five-year-old and ten-month-old; and two teenage boys died of infections after receiving medical treatment in federal custody.

Over 75,000 families have already transited Mexico to the U.S. border this month alone.  Incentivized to come now by the smuggling organizations’ advertisements and the fact that families cannot be detained in custody during their immigration proceedings. 

We are seeing increasing cases of adults fraudulently presenting with children that are not their own — over 4,000 this year.  As one man whose own children had migrated to the U.S. this year told me yesterday while was I was in Guatemala, “A child is like a passport for migration.” 

Let me clear, the current situation is risking the lives of children every day.  To address this crisis, Mexico must take significant action to secure their southern border, stop the unlawful flow of migrants across their territory, and attack the criminal groups preying on vulnerable migrants and profiting from these smuggling enterprises. 

At any given moment, up to 100,000 migrants are transiting Mexico on their way to the U.S. border.  Unlike the U.S. border, where crossings can occur in all four states and all along our 2,000-mile border from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, this visible, predictable movement of migrants from Central America can be much more easily interdicted and occurs largely from the Guatemala into one Mexican border state along a 150-mile stretch of border with both natural and transportation chokepoints.

We also have the opportunity to partner with Mexico to align our asylum efforts to ensure that asylum seekers are processed and protected in the first safe space they reach and not allowed to continue on to other countries’ borders.  We need to take concerted action. 

We’ve also asked Congress to close the gaps in our laws that incentivize this unlawful flow.  We will continue to engage Mexico and Congress on solutions.  And the status quo is clearly unacceptable and getting worse. 

MR. GIDLEY:  Thanks, Kevin.  I really appreciate that.  I want to turn it over to Chief of Staff Mulvaney now for a brief opening statement as well. 

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  Very briefly, because there’s hardly anything you could add to that, but if that doesn’t describe a national emergency — a crisis — I’m not sure what does.  

And for all of the reasons that Kevin just identified, the President indicated his intention tonight to invoke his authorities under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. 

I take it you saw the tweet — and I saw the second tweet said that he was going to provide the details tonight.  Here are the details: Effective June 1st– unless some things happen; we could talk about that in a second — the President intends to levy a — excuse me, I’m sorry, I spoke — June the 1st — I can’t even read my own handwriting, it’s June 10th.  June 10th, we’ll impose a 5 percent tariff on every single good coming into the United States from Mexico.  That means across the border, in the air, by sea — every single good, 5 percent tariff, effective June 10th. 

If the Mexican government is uncapable — incapable of or unwilling to assist us in resolving the situation at our southern border, that tariff will go to 10 percent on July 1st, 15 percent on August 1st, 20 percent on September 1st, and 25 percent on October 1st.  It is our very firm belief that the Mexican government can and needs to do more to help us with the situation on the southern border. 

So with that, we’ll throw it open to questions for a little bit.  Kevin can take them, I can take them — however you want to work it, Hogan. 

Q    Hi, this is Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media.  Thanks for doing this.  So it appears that the President’s solution to the migrant crisis is to raise taxes on Americans.  How do you think the economy is going to react to this?  And do you think it could threaten the gains that the President likes to brag about?  And also, does the President understand that Mexico is not going to pay these tariffs — that they are not going to pay them, Mexican companies aren’t — that Americans will pay these? 

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  Let’s make a couple things perfectly clear: Americans are paying for this right now.  Illegal immigration comes at a cost.  The American taxpayer is paying for what’s going on at the crisis — at the border. 

We — all of a us — what was the second question?  I can’t — it’s late and I cannot read my own handwriting.  What was your second part of your question?

   The two questions were what effect do you think this is going to have on the economy?  And the second question was if the President understands that he’s raising taxes on Americans to punish Mexico.

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  And again, this — the second — the answer to the second about the economy is the same as the first, which is this is already impacting the economy negatively.  National security is the first and foremost priority for any President of the United States.  And this President will do everything that he legally can to defend the nation.

Again, I hope you were able to be in the first part of the call and heard the statistics of what’s happening at the border.  If that is not a national emergency, I don’t what is.  

So the President has asked Congress to help.  Congress has failed to help.  I can personally tell you it’s been at least six weeks since I met with Senate Democrats to literally beg them for (inaudible).  And instead of helping us, they left town.  

So now we are asking Mexico to do what it can because Congress will not.  This President will defend the nation.  He will defend the southern border.  If that means taking the tariffs to 25 percent, that means taking the tariffs to 25 percent.  We hope — sincerely hope — it does not come to that.

We actually have some level of confidence that the Mexican government will be able to help us in a very, very timely fashion.  We could talk about that more in a later question if you want to.  We really do not want to do this, but we do this in order to protect the country. 

Q    Hi, this Kaitlan Collins with CNN.  Thanks so much for doing this.  Obviously, the Vice President traveled to Canada today to talk about the USMCA deal.  And my question is, would this new threat — would that affect the USMCA?  Does it violate the agreement?  And would it require the U.S. to withdraw with that?

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  No, the two are absolutely not linked.  Keep in mind, this is an action that we take that is related to an immigration matter.  And if the Mexicans aren’t — if the Mexican government is able to do what we think they can do, they have some of the strongest immigration laws in the world in their country.  We fully believe they have the ability to stop people coming from their southern border. 

And if they’re able to do that, these tariffs will either not go into place or will be removed after they go into place.  That is separate and apart from the USMCA, which is a trade matter.  These are not tariffs as part of a trade dispute.  These are tariffs as part of an immigration problem.  The USMCA is a trade matter and completely separate.

Q    Hi, this is Kayla Tausche from CNBC.  I wanted to ask about what ideas were left on the cutting room floor to pursue this strategy, because it is an economic instrument that is being used to solve a different type of policy matter.  So I’m curious what else came up in the discussion for how to solve this.  And also, what you would see as a sufficient response from the Mexican government?

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  Yes.  Kayla, a couple things on that.  I’m not going to speak to the things we didn’t do or the deliberate process that we go through.  That’s just not appropriate and we won’t — I won’t address that.   

But I will tell you that we are specifically — I think — I don’t know if you all have seen the statement that we have put or not — but we specifically mentioned, in regards to an approving situation, that it will be at our discretion.  We’re trying to build in the ability here to look to the Mexican government to make progress immediately.  That’s the key here.  This needs to — this is an urgent problem. 

We — one of the things that frustrates us in the White House so often, that when we talk to Congress, especially the Democrats, it (inaudible) — they talk about ideas that could fix things in six months or eight months or a year.  The crisis at the border is now.  The crisis at the border is urgent.  And we are interested in seeing the Mexican government react tonight, tomorrow. 

They have — I believe it’s like (inaudible) days to (inaudible) progress on this.  And we’re hopeful that they will.  And there are things that they can do.  And Kevin can speak to that if you like — things that the Mexican government — we’ve talked to them about doing.  They know they can do it.  We know they can do it.  That’s what we’re — that’s what we’re more interested in. 

Kevin, do you want to speak to that — some of the steps the government of Mexico can take? 

ACTING SECRETARY MCALEENAN:  Sure.  I would highlight three.  First, operational security on their southern border with Guatemala.  They have increased somewhat they interdictions of migrates entering Mexico from Guatemala, but it’s less than one fifth of what we’re seeing at the border on average.  They need to step up their security efforts at their southern border.  And they have natural chokepoints leading away from the border of Chiapas and Guatemala, into Mexico and on the way to the U.S.   

Two, we need to target an attack to transnational criminal organizations.  This is an organized smuggling effort.  The logistical effort to move 100,000 people through a country every four weeks is immense.  This is noticeable.  It involves commercial bus lines that are controlled by criminal organizations.  We need Mexico to crack down on these operations in their territory.

And third, we want to work with Mexico to align on asylum.  We need to be able to protect people in the first safe country they arrive in — really, all through the hemisphere, but certainly with our partner to the south.

So those three areas I would highlight as key opportunities for continued and enhanced partnership.            

Q    Hi, this is Alex Pfeiffer from Tucker Carlson Tonight.  I was wondering, did the White House talk with any congressional leaders before announcing this decision?  Were they supportive of it?

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  I will tell you, without going into specifics, that we were in communication with leadership in both chambers.  Obviously, we talked to Republicans more than we did Democrats.  

Q    And were the Republicans supportive of it?

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  They were.  There were some questions that were raised regarding the authorities and we were able to brief — the White House Counsel’s Office was able to brief a couple of, especially, the senators who were interested in going over the authorities under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.  And we feel like we were able to get them more comfortable with that. 

So yeah, I think we were able to (inaudible).

Q    Hello?  Hello?

MR. GIDLEY:  Go ahead. 

Q    Hi.  Thank you.  This is Kat Lister with (inaudible).  I’m just wondering: What products will be levied to the 5 percent tariff on June 10th?

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  All of them. 

Q    Hey, this is Steven with Sinclair Broadcast Group.  Thanks for doing the call.  I wanted to ask, what is — you all say it’s at your discretion.  What is a win for the United States?  Is it a drop in 15 percent in immigration?  Is it 50 percent?  What’s the win for the Trump White House? 

And if the United States government is saying, you know, “We can’t handle all these people,” what is the message to Mexico, saying “You need to keep them there,” if Mexico is not able to handle them either?

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  We — again, we were — specifically referencing our statement that this is –whether we’re going handle this on an ad hoc basis.  We did not set a specific percentage, did not set a specific number.  It’s a very fluid situation. 

For example, if we said we wanted to lower it — we want them to increase their apprehensions by 1,000 — but tomorrow we get 7,000 people crossing the border, that doesn’t solve the problem.  We are going to judge success here by the number of people crossing the border, and that number needs to start coming down immediately in a significant and substantial number.

So we’re going to take this and look at it on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis.

Q    Hey, Mick.  Ben White from Politico.  Thanks for doing the call.  I just wonder, when you briefed Republicans and some Democrats on the use of this authority, what was the argument for why the IEEPA is a legitimate usage here for, you know, this unrelated immigration problem?  I mean, my reading of the statute is this would be a pretty atypical usage of it that’s likely to face some challenges.

ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY:  Actually, in all fairness, I’d rather have the White House Counsel’s Office address that because they had the direct conversations with the members on the Hill.  So, and I was not — did not participate in those.  

And let me be clear — I think I said something tongue in cheek that you just took literally, which is I don’t believe we spoke to any Democrats in advance of this.  So when I said before we obviously talked to more Republicans than Democrats, that’s a true statement, but the number of Democrats, I believe was zero. 

So, but if you want to, we can reach out separately on the legal authority because that did come up in conversations with several Republican folks on the Hill — specifically, a couple of senators that I won’t name.  

MR. GIDLEY:  All right, thanks everybody.  I just want to repeat the reminder to the reporters on the call that the two folks from the White House were the acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.  And the call is on the record. 

Thank you very much. 

END            

8:23 P.M. EDT

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