President Donald Trump reportedly offered to pardon Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, if he violated the law and was arrested for blocking entry into the U.S. along the southern border, CNN and The New York Times reported.
The news outlets, quoting anonymous administration officials, reported that the conversation happened last week when Trump traveled to the border in Calexico, California. At the time, McAleenan was the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Trump tapped him to head DHS after Sunday’s resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen.
While touring the border, Trump told McAleenan to close the border and he “would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants,” CNN reported. The Times reported the conversation centered on closing the entirety of the southwest border, not just migrants seeking entry.
Both CNN and the Times say it was unclear whether the president’s comments were a joke, as they happened just one day after Trump backed away from threats to close the border.
In a statement, DHS pushed back on the reports.
“At no time has the President indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal,” the department said in a statement. “Nor would the Acting Secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law.”
Trump had said there was a “very good likelihood” that he would close the border due to the flow of migrants that travel through Mexico and head toward the U.S. He backed away from the idea after sharp blowback from business groups and Republicans on Capitol Hill. A closure would disrupt the flow of roughly $1.5 billion in daily trade.
Instead, Trump suggested his administration would slap tariffs on autos long before it considered sealing the nation off from its southern neighbor. “I don’t think we’ll ever have to close the border,” Trump said in the Oval Office last week.
During his trip to the border, Trump said Mexico has responded to his threats to close the southern border with an unprecedented effort to monitor cross-border activity, claiming Mexico was “now apprehending people by the thousands” at their southern border.
The president also had a blunt message to migrants heading for the U.S.
“Our country is full,” Trump told border agents and elected officials. “Can’t take you anymore. I’m sorry. Turn around. That’s the way it is.”
In March, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 92,000 immigrants trying to cross the border illegally, a 12-year high, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced on Tuesday.
Of those, 92,607 immigrants were apprehended at the border – the highest monthly total since April 2007, when 104,465 immigrants were stopped trying to enter the country illegally.
Of those apprehended in March, 30,555 were single adults, 8,975 were unaccompanied children and 53,077 were family units, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
The number of family units apprehended is an all-time high.
Contributing: David Jackson, Michael Collins and John Fritze
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