Former Homeland Security Secretary: Despite Challenges, DACA Is In Country's 'Best Interest'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump spoke earlier today from Camp David, where he's meeting with Republican leaders about their priorities moving into 2018. And he said that one of the topics on the agenda is immigration, especially what to do about so-called DREAMers - undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
In September, President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which protected DREAMers from deportation and allowed them to work legally. He left it up to Congress to come up with a legislative solution by March. But this week, three former Homeland Security secretaries argued that if Congress is going to implement a new immigration program, they need to do it quickly, ideally within the next two weeks. Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, is one of the people making that argument, and he's on the line now. Mr. Chertoff, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I'm happy to be on, Michel.
MARTIN: First of all, I wanted to ask why you decided to sign this letter. The two other signatories were - served under President Obama, who originated this program. Why did you decide to add your voice to this argument?
CHERTOFF: Well, I'm acutely aware of the challenges of implementing a complicated program from the standpoint of the Department of Homeland Security. And I believe that having a fair resolution of the situation for DREAMers is in the best interest of the country as well as a humane thing to do. But I'm also well aware that, as with any other big program, you've got to do it right. And if you don't have the time to implement it, then you wind up with the worst of all worlds. It doesn't work well for the DREAMers and it doesn't work well for the U.S. government.
MARTIN: So explain the time crunch, given that the deadline is in March.
CHERTOFF: Well, you know, it would be great to imagine that in the world of government or in the world of the private sector, everything works flawlessly. But my experience is you have to kind of prepare for glitches. So in this case, you would need to put in place a set of rules and regulations about how people come forward. What form of identification is appropriate? What kind of record checks have to be made? How do you verify people actually came when they were children as opposed to last year?
And setting up the protocols and then be able to communicate with all the offices around the country to make sure everybody understands exactly what they have to do is going to take some weeks. You also want to leave a little margin for error because sometimes unexpected things happen. And the last thing you want to do is to rush this at the end because either you wind up excluding people who should be included or you include people who should be excluded and that then becomes a problem.
MARTIN: When you were Homeland Security secretary, you worked with a bipartisan group of senators on an immigration overhaul bill that would have addressed these issues, you know, in a bigger way. That bill ultimately failed. So do you think this Congress has any more appetite to move forward in that way than they did when you were serving in government?
CHERTOFF: Very few people I've met actually argue that, on the merits, people who came to this country when they were 2 years old through no fault of their own turned out not to be legal but now have lived here their whole lives. I've met very few people who want to have them kicked out.
At the same time, I understand that there's a desire to balance that with funding and support for increased enforcement. I think that's a reasonable request, so it strikes me you could get a fairly narrow bill that addresses a couple of relatively non-controversial issues and get that done within a very short timeframe. And that might, by the way, be a very good inspiration for the possibility of tackling a broader set of issues over the longer term.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, is there a national security argument to be made about addressing this apart from making sure that people are who they say they are? Let's say that they are who they say they are, but is there a national security aspect to this that you can describe for us if Congress can't come to a resolution on this?
CHERTOFF: I would say this. I would say, first of all, of course, if we can't get a resolution and the DREAMers are forced to leave, there'll be a loss, first of all, to the employers and for those who are actually serving in government or doing something that benefits the government, there's going to be a loss there. There's going to be a very negative message about the way the U.S. views people who are not born here, which is going to have a ripple effect around the world in terms of the way people view us.
And then I think if we can't get this done properly, you're going to be distracting from enforcing against serious bad people by having people run around trying to round up DREAMers or expel them. And just from the standpoint of having an orderly, well-prioritized enforcement process, that would be a mistake.
MARTIN: That's Michael Chertoff. He was secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009. He's now executive chairman of the Chertoff Group. That's a security and risk management advisory firm. Mr. Chertoff, thanks so much for speaking with us.
CHERTOFF: Happy to do it, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE JAZZ JOUSTERS' "SEARCH WARRANT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.