Last night, CBS’ 60 Minutes ran an extended interview with acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, who was installed by President Trump upon the resignation of former DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen.
The 15-minute segment broke new ground by showing migrants being processed inside the McAllen Border Patrol Station, which has never before allowed journalists. But in exchange, 60 Minutes had to provide a friendly platform for McAleenan to spin the Trump administration’s efforts on immigration as a tough-love attempt to compassionately deal with a crisis.
This seems to be part of a larger new PR effort on the part of DHS. They recently allowed New York Times columnist and noted idiot Thomas Friedman to tag along with their border security efforts, resulting in a proto-fascist column that echoed many of the president’s talking points.
Something similar happened on 60 Minutes, where correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi was more than willing to give McAleenan the benefit of the doubt, only gently pushing back on his claims that there is an unprecedented crisis at the border and that DHS is doing its very best to handle it with humanity.
“I believe you can be tough and compassionate at the same time,” McAleenan, the guy who oversaw Trump’s hideous “zero tolerance” family separation policy, said when asked how he can satisfy Trump’s demand for tougher enforcement.
McAleenan suggested that more members of Congress are realizing that the crisis at the border is “not manufactured” but “real,” which Alfonsi allowed to pass uncontested. It’s true that there are more migrants crossing the border than there have been in the past decade, but it’s still nowhere near the numbers that were crossing around the millennium. And political stunts like Trump’s government shutdown over the border wall have made the backlog of immigration cases worse.
Alfonsi, and her editors, allowed McAleenan to make the same argument Trump often makes—that the migrants are coming because they know they’ll be allowed to stay. Alfonsi even helped McAleenan finish his thoughts:
Kevin McAleenan: If you come now, and if you come as a family or as an unaccompanied child, you will be allowed to stay. You will be released. Because our court system is so backlogged, and our laws prevent effective repatriation, even if there’s no right to stay in the U.S.—
Sharyn Alfonsi: They know, if they come—
Kevin McAleenan: —even if you don’t have a valid asylum claim.
Sharyn Alfonsi: —they’re gonna be led out the backdoor.
Kevin McAleenan: That’s exactly right. And smugglers are advertising that directly in their hometowns.
Alfonsi then went down to the border, where she rode along with an agent who asked migrants walking along a road if they’re OK, and pointed them in the direction of where to turn themselves in.
The agent spotted one family hiding in the bushes, and told them, to their enormous relief, that they were in the U.S.
“He— he asked— how far to the U.S., right? So we were letting him know he’s already here. So that’s kind of what brought him to tears. He just— he said he just wanted help,” the agent said. Yes, the compassion that all migrants are known to receive under the Trump administration.
Later on, McAleenan waffled about whether it was right or wrong for Trump to stop providing financial aid to the countries where many of these migrants are coming from.
Sharyn Alfonsi: [Trump] said, “We’re not paying them anymore, because they haven’t done a thing for us.” You’ve testified in Congress, “We need to continue to support those areas.” Do you still believe that?
Kevin McAleenan: So I think the president’s right, that we need to have aid that has targeted impact. It needs to support American interests. It needs to support economic development. And it needs to help reduce the causes of migration—everything from insecurity on the food side, to security, in terms of the cities and gang issues.
Sharyn Alfonsi: But wouldn’t it just push more people to the border, if there’s no aid coming in?
Kevin McAleenan: Well— aid that’s not being used effectively— by an accountable partner isn’t helping.
The show moved on.
Finally, we got to the family separation policy and McAleenan’s role in enforcing it. Alfonsi asked if he had regrets as to how it was carried out (though it’s hard to imagine a way to carry out family separations that could be less than horrific). He said he did regret the loss of public trust, but that the policy “worked.”
One thing that was apparent from this footage is the scale of the humanitarian disaster currently taking place on the border. Almost every migrant shown in the segment broke down crying. It was heartbreaking to watch. But Alfonsi still entertained that to some, these people could be “horrifying.”
“We saw the migrants leaving Catholic Charities, getting on a bus and going off to different parts of the United States,” Alfonsi said. “I think a lot of people are gonna be surprised to see that.”
“There’s that moment when they leave. And you’re either gonna think, ‘That’s great,’ or, ‘This is horrifying,’” she says.
“The reality of the system today is very hard to understand,” McAleenan responded.
But it’s really not that hard to understand. There is a wave of migration, fueled by climate change, violence, and poverty that the U.S. helped create. Those coming are simply looking for a chance to live free from fear. We don’t need suggestions that their arrival here is “horrifying” or alarmism about a crisis that could be fixed by giving more resources to the parts of the system that actually need it, rather than focusing on building a useless wall. We need compassionate action. The longer we take, the more people will suffer.