CNN anchor Don Lemon argued with former Pentagon chief Mark Esper over the effectiveness of former President Donald Trump’s border policy on Tuesday, with Lemon claiming that Trump “wasted time” trying to build a wall.
Esper denied that was the case, and said he fully supported such border security, which he called an “important issue” for immigration policy.
On Tuesday’s “CNN This Morning,” Lemon spoke to the former Defense Secretary about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to extend the Trump-era Title 42 policy allowing US officials to expel migrants from entering the country in order to prevent the spread of illness, like COVID-19.
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Under the Biden administration, the policy was amended to allow for the expulsion of illegal immigrants coming from only non-asylum countries. If Title 42 were removed, experts have warned that the current crisis at the border could be exponentially worse.
Lemon addressed those fears, asking Esper whether he believes the current problem has the “makings of a national security crisis.”
“Well, I’ve always said border security is national security,” Esper said. “And look, the problem is getting worse and worse. I think 2021, the highest number ever in US history of encounters at the border was 1.7 million. This year it’s 2.4 million, and it’s going higher in 2023.”
He added, “We have to get this under control. I supported the Trump administration’s policy and of course we’ve had troops on the border supporting DHS for decades.”
Esper slammed Congress and “Washington” for not addressing the border crisis properly. He told Lemon, “The bigger issue is failure of Congress to act, to come up with a modern immigration policy laws to deal with this, to deal with the DREAMers, to make sure we have a merit-based immigration system to secure the border , to finish putting border security up. So, the bigger failure here is in Washington.”
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Lemon noted that Esper has not placed “as much blame on the Biden administration as many people do” for the crisis and brought up Esper’s belief that “this is a shared issue by both Democrats and Republicans.”
Esper clarified, “I do blame the Biden administration. They neglected this problem for two years now. And as I said earlier, the numbers have grown and grown. It has been an incentive for folks from Latin America to come north into our country. And we cannot handle the load. We’ve seen cities overwhelmed.”
“But with all due respect, Mr. Esper, four years the Trump Administration wasted time with the border wall between the US and Mexico border. There could have been more meaningful immigration policy and discussions with the Trump Administration as well,” Lemon said.
Esper acknowledged there were problems with immigration policies throughout administrations for the past several “decades,” but insisted the border wall wasn’t among them.
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He pushed back on Lemon, saying, “I disagree with you with regard to the Trump Administration. I don’t think the border wall was a waste of time. Look border security is an important issue, it’s going to be important factor in any type of immigration policy agreement going forward.”
He added, “I support border security. We need border security and, that’s going to be the underpinnings of any potential deal between the Congress and the White House.”