CBP sector chief: We created this problem by not enforcing the law all along

“Do you think we’re all too emotional about this?” Gayle King asked the right question of Manuel Padilla, the man running the Customs and Border Patrol sector that accounts for the most illegal crossings and detentions, even if the CBS This Morning host didn’t get the answer she wanted. Padilla patiently explained why he supports the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, calling the flood of children separated from their parents a consequence of a refusal to enforce border laws in the past. That refusal set up a series of perverse incentives to smuggle children across the border, with the expected perverse outcomes — including one MS-13 gang member who thought a one-year-old was a Get Out of Jail Free card:

“I know this is complicated for you and your team, but what people are talking about is cruel and inhuman behavior, is how it’s perceived,” said King. “Do you actually agree with this policy?”

“I do agree that we have to do something. We created this situation by not doing anything,” Padilla said. “So what happened with zero tolerance is, we were exempting a population from the law. And what happens when you do that, it creates a draw for a certain group of people that rises to trends that become a crisis.”

“I’m going to give you an example: Because we were releasing family units, May 2, just last month, we had a full-blown MS-13 (gang member) accompanied by his one-year-old child. He thought he was going get released into the community; that was not the case.”

It’s an interesting conversation on a couple of levels. First, we don’t get to hear much from the people carrying out the policies, and Padilla’s perspective adds considerable nuance to what has been cast, ridiculously so, as the equivalent of concentration camps. That’s not to say that these separations are a good idea, but the policy takes effect more or less because of two other conditions — enforcement of the law on illegal entries over the border, and a lack of family facilities that could keep related children with their parents.

Second point of interest: It’s clear that King is vehemently opposed to the outcomes, and she doesn’t try to hide that. However, she asks good questions that respectfully challenge Padilla, and then she lets him give a full answer to them. It makes for an even more informative exchange, although in the end it clearly doesn’t change King’s mind.

Politico also featured a snippet of an interview with another CBP official, who notes that they are bound by policy to put the children in the least restrictive environment possible, which is not going to be where the parents and/or guardians end up for violating the border. Also, he cautions the media to understand that not all minors are harmless children:

As Padilla notes, we separate children from perpetrators when dealing with other crimes, too, especially when perpetrators bring children along with them. If relatives can be found to care for children, they get transferred out of the system back to the family, but otherwise they remain in foster care until the parents’ cases are adjudicated. He and King dispute whether the parents in this case are told what happens to the children, but parents in the justice system in the US probably don’t know much about where their children are at first, either.

That doesn’t make these outcomes optimal, but they are avoidable. If families present themselves at official crossing stations and are rejected for asylum, they have the option to return home together rather than being separated for illegal entry. The enforcement in this case comes when families cross the border illegally in unprotected areas, forcing CBP to arrest them in US territory and present them for prosecution. If they couldn’t cross at any other point than official checkpoints, Trump adviser Hogan Gidley told Fox & Friends this morning, the problem might be solved …. hint hint:

It’s statements like this that leave the distinct impression that the new policy is all about forcing Democrats to agree to fund the border wall. That may be good policy, but leveraging it off of separation outcomes won’t make the sale, as we have seen. Padilla’s calm and dispassionate analysis makes a far better — and far more coherent — case for enforcement than the White House has mustered so far.