U.S. Sen. Dr. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) explains the U.S. border crisis and the need for a physical barrier advocated for by President Donald Trump. With the two political parties in gridlock, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unwilling to entertain funding options that include a wall, Sen. Cassidy spoke with The Epoch Times about his creative approach to funding border security, namely by using money confiscated from Mexican drug cartels.
Jan Jekielek: In the State of the Union, the president called what’s happening at the border right now a national crisis. He also said it’s a threat to the safety, security, and financial well-being of all Americans, but some are actually calling it a manufactured crisis. What do you call it?
Sen. Cassidy: I think the president put it very well. He said, if you’re wealthy, living behind fences with guards protecting your property, things are OK. But if you are in the working class having to have a tattered safety net, people competing for your jobs and lowering the wage base, maybe it’s not quite so good. I would add that if you’re somebody whose son, daughter, or spouse died from a fentanyl overdose, maybe it’s not so good. I would also add, if you’re a child from Central America who’s being trafficked, because you’re brought here by a coyote, it’s not so good. So, maybe it depends upon your perspective. Wealthy behind a wall: manufactured. Tattered safety net, being trafficked, son died of drugs: it is a crisis.
Jan Jekielek: I want to focus a little bit on your constituency and specifically how this crisis affects the people of Louisiana. Can you speak to that?
Sen. Cassidy: There’s different aspects to it. And one aspect, of course, is the contraband which is coming across. There was a recent seizure, I think, of 232 pounds of fentanyl. That could kill the entire state of California. So my state, as every other state, has a death rate from opioids, and a measure of that is from fentanyl from south of the border. If we seize this, obviously, we decrease supply, death rates should go down. You could say, well, we seized it. I went to McAllen, Texas, a couple of years ago and they showed me this big room with contraband. They had drugs, guns, marijuana, and you name it. And I asked them how much of that which is coming through do you think you’re seizing, and they kind of scratched their chins and said, ‘Probably a third.’ This big room is only a third? So two-thirds still coming through, filtering across the nation and into my state, with people dying; it’s not hard to make that connection.
Jan Jekielek: How does the physical structure fit into this? There have been some arguments made that, yes, we need some more border security, but we definitely don’t want a physical structure.
Sen. Cassidy: So the president makes it clear he’s not talking about a concrete wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. He’s talking about certain high-trafficked places, and there’s areas where every reasonable person concedes that it’s important. He used the example of San Diego, which used to have an incredible amount of foot traffic coming across. And now, they cannot. There’s a YouTube video that showed about 1,000 people south of the border and they just rushed across; the guards tried to tackle them. So maybe, they got 100 of them but 900 got through and merely melted in. Again, going back to McAllen, Texas, they had a wall. It forced people coming up to go one way or the other, making it easier for the agents to capture them when they came across. So they are in an urban setting. Walls, barriers, clearly make a difference. They make a positive difference.
Jan Jekielek: Speaking of which, we have a number of caravans from what I understand, coming up right now from South America, and a lot of these people probably, based on precedent, aren’t going to actually qualify for asylum. What do you see happening here?
Sen. Cassidy: We have to look at why folks are leaving. A friend of mine is from Guatemala. And I asked her about it. And I said, folks come here they don’t have a job or maybe they’re working for cash, a kind of tough situation. She says, “However bad it is here, it is better than it is for them in Guatemala.” So we have to look at that which is driving people to leave their homes. We can also look at success stories. I went to Mexico recently and I asked folks about the first big wave of folks coming from Mexico, when Pancho Villa was marauding across northern Mexico and folks fled to the safety of the United States. Now, we have cartels marauding across. Why aren’t people leaving? And they said that the economic development among northern Mexico, creating jobs for families, gives a stickiness. They don’t want to leave their home because they have a job, so they don’t leave, even though there is a lack of security. That could be a model. Can we go down and create economic opportunity for people in Central America? A stickiness, if you will, that will keep them there in their community with their jobs and their families, as opposed to migrating into the United States. We have to start thinking of the bigger picture.
Jan Jekielek: So you actually introduced a new bill on Feb. 2: Securing the Border and Making Drug Cartels Pay for It. Can you give us an overview of the bill?
Sen. Cassidy: So cartels move anywhere from $60 billion-$100 billion dollars from the United States to Mexico annually from the sale of drugs and other things. We confiscate, as a U.S. government, about $5 billion of it. That’s not very much, but we are getting $5 billion. Now, theoretically, the more barriers we have, the more security, the more we would capture some of this money. So my thought was, let’s just take this money we’re confiscating and use that to build the barrier. It wouldn’t be the Mexican government, it wouldn’t be the U.S. taxpayer, it would be the cartels. And that would be poetic, sweet justice. But it would also hopefully increase the amount that we are seizing. So that’s my hope. Secondly, that money is already within the executive branch, so Congress wouldn’t have to appropriate. So if we are at this impasse, where Pelosi doesn’t want one more dollar for a barrier, then we actually have dollars within the executive that could be used. Ms. Pelosi could keep her word, but we could still strengthen our security.
Jan Jekielek: So what was the genesis of the idea?
Sen. Cassidy: I’m looking very much at trade-based money laundering; the means by which Hezbollah, for example, has moved billions out of the United States to the Middle East in order to finance terrorism and the way that Hezbollah and the Mexican cartels will work together. But the cartels will move money down to Mexico to further criminal activity. And when you start looking at it and realize the sums involved, that’s when it seemed to present a solution as to what we could do.
Jan Jekielek: So I’ve heard that this is somehow sometimes confused with the El Chapo Act that was introduced by Sen. Cruz. Could you just tell us the distinction?
Sen. Cassidy: It’s the same concept, but we probably have a little bit more robust kind of presentation of it. You have to change the law a little bit. The money we’re currently confiscating by law can be used for law enforcement to share with local police or state police as they cooperate with our border agents. So, we actually have in our provision, a change in the law that would allow it to also be used for barriers.
Jan Jekielek: And do you have any sense of what the president thinks of this bill you’ve been proposing?
Sen. Cassidy: I’ve spoken to the president and I’ve spoken to other members of his administration about this. I think they want a congressional appropriation. So we’re just trying to give the conferees, the negotiators, one more, “Well, what about this?” What can we do to break this impasse? I don’t want a government shutdown. I’d rather not have an emergency declaration. So how can we secure our southern border and get everything else done.
Jan Jekielek: So you’re not necessarily pushing to pass this bill per se, you’re looking at it as a tool, perhaps, for the conference.
Sen. Cassidy: Correct. The conferees are going to come back with a solution. So this is the way you highlight it, giving them one more chance to say ‘Maybe we can use this.’
Jan Jekielek: Wonderful. The conference committee report comes out in, I think, a couple of days and are you aware of any progress that was made there?
Sen. Cassidy: You know you’re reading headlines, with the probably the most important headline is that even though Democratic negotiators apparently are open to money for protection, for barriers, Ms. Pelosi is still dug in. So the president clearly has signaled a willingness to compromise. Democratic negotiators have signaled a willingness to find common ground. It’s Ms. Pelosi who is the outlier, who is kind of “No, we cannot.” She would rather another government shutdown and/or drugs continuing to come across our border at the rate they are, rather than coming up with something which has been adopted by multiple presidential administrations, which is that barriers work.
Jan Jekielek: What do you think the issue is with that?
Sen. Cassidy: I can’t speak for her, of course. But I can imagine, there is a wing of the Democratic Party which is truly for an open border, and wishes to abolish ICE. They see nothing wrong with the entirety of the rest of the world pouring across that border. Now if you push them on ‘No, we don’t want MS-13’ and if we push them on ‘No, we don’t want folks coming from Southeast Asia’ just coming across for no other reason they’d rather be here. But you have to push them and they will not adopt the policies to limit that. And the idea that people seriously talked about abolishing ICE is just absurd. They’ve never been to McAllen, Texas, to see that which I’ve seen, which is the confiscated drugs, guns and money.
Jan Jekielek: The president called, during the State of the Union, this whole situation a moral issue. What are your thoughts on that?
Sen. Cassidy: Again, I’ll go back to an earlier exchange we had. If you’re a working-class family, and the social safety net is tattered, and there’s school systems that are overburdened with teachers who are underpaid relative to the number of students they see, or maybe, you feel as if your job—your wage base—is being undercut. Aren’t you upset? Shouldn’t you be upset? If your standard of living is less so your child has to go to a school which isn’t quite as good, or your marriage has more tension because money is tighter. Shouldn’t we be upset? Can we perceive that as a moral issue? I think we can. It’s a basic issue of fairness.
Jan Jekielek: Feb. 15 is the deadline that the president put in place. What is your ideal scenario on Feb. 15?
Sen. Cassidy: I think they want to have, by this Friday, an initial outline. I like it that the president has shown a willingness to compromise. He is willing to make a deal for the DACA kids and even for those on temporary protected status. Most Americans have a sense that they’re willing that there be an accommodation for these two groups, in return that the Democratic Party would come forward to agree to funding for a barrier. I think both sides get something that they’ve been advocating for. If the Democrats are serious that they want something positive done for the children—the DACA children—and they agree that ‘Obama built fences, why shouldn’t President Trump be able to build fences,’ then that should be the deal.
And there was a sense that the new president of Mexico, he’s called by AMLO, and our President Trump would not get along well; but they’ve actually collaborated very well. When I was in Mexico, I was informed by our embassy that the Mexicans, with our assistance, have recently stood up a way to monitor everyone coming from south of their border into Mexico. And they found that many of those coming into Mexico are the type of folks that Mexico does not wish to have. Some of them will transit all the way to the United States, some stay in Mexico. And like I said, Mexico doesn’t want some of these folks. They also found that people were coming from Somalia, and Pakistan, and Korea, and India, and not just from Guatemala or the Northern Triangle.
So, I think the president needs to be complimented for this cooperation he’s gotten in a relationship that is critical to our country, with Mexico, to limit the migration and to otherwise process people in a way which doesn’t force our hand. It’s a little bit against type, but the president commonly goes against type.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.