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Obama Border Patrol chief to Trump: ‘Stay the course’ on the border wall

Then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan testifies during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs concerning border protection on Nov. 30, 2016. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Mark Morgan, a career FBI official who served as Border Patrol chief for the last six months of the Obama administration before being removed once President Trump took office, has come out this week in support of a border wall.

Morgan, who has kept a low profile since he was forced to step down, first gave an interview to Law and Crime in which he defended the White House’s desire to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.

The morning after Trump reiterated in a prime-time address to the nation why wall funding was worth shutting down 25 percent of the federal government, Morgan told The Fix that he’s breaking his silence because, in his view, the wall is an important piece in a group of policy changes needed to secure the border.

“I was removed. I’m standing up and saying, ‘I should have disdain for them, but I don’t because they are right,' " Morgan said. “I can stand up and say they are right because it’s the right thing to do for this country. I’m begging the president to stay the course.”

Morgan’s comments, which have been widely disseminated by right-leaning media, are sure to embolden Republicans as Trump heads to Capitol Hill to encourage GOP members to stick with him as some reportedly begin to lose patience as the shutdown enters its 19th day.

When Morgan was pushed out in January 2017, it was reported that the Border Patrol union, which has been loyal to Trump and his policies since his candidacy, didn’t believe Morgan was making border security a priority and lobbied the administration for him to be replaced.

Morgan says now that some “wires got crossed” and that he had supported Trump’s call for a wall since “day one.” But during a congressional hearing, he was asked whether he supported “comprehensive immigration reform,” and he said, “yes.” What he meant, he says now, was a holistic approach to how immigrants come into the country, which would include a barrier, enhanced technology and more personnel, as well as more bed space in holding facilities, more immigration judges and aid to Central American countries to help them improve their quality of life. What he didn’t mean, and what many misinterpreted, was a path to citizenship or permanent status.

Echoing many of the GOP’s recent talking points, Morgan said he didn’t understand why Democrats supported a border fence in 2006 but now say a border wall is “immoral.”

“The issue is political, so we have to be honest about that,” he said. “The substantive issue is what is important, it doesn’t matter whether it’s called the Secure Fence, Secure Wall, or Secure Barrier Act, the reason it was approved on a bipartisan front is because it was needed. What changed is that at one point it was wanted and needed, and now, because we call it a wall, it’s immoral. Really? That’s what we’re talking about now? The size and width of the barrier is the delineation of what is moral or not?”

Democrats have defended their support for the 700 miles of fencing that was constructed between the United States and Mexico as different from the 2,000 miles of concrete wall the president had originally proposed (he has since amended his offer to “steel slats”) and that the 2006 bill was a lesser of two evils compared with what Republicans really wanted, which was to charge any illegal immigrant as a felon.

Morgan said Trump may have called for a wall along the entire border, but no one actually believes it’s needed for the entire 2,000 miles. But there are areas that remain porous, he said, that encourage illegal immigration rather than coming through legal ports of entry.

For years, Trump has portrayed the issue at the border as one of national security, but in his address to the nation, he also tried to sell it as a humanitarian crisis.

On the former, Morgan said he doesn’t understand why politicians are arguing over the number of criminals or terrorists crossing the border — the Trump administration has been called out for claiming 4,000 terrorists were stopped at the southern border when the actual number is six. The goal, Morgan argued, shouldn’t be to wait for a single terrorist to come into the country, but to be proactive so that it doesn’t happen. Asked about the fact that more terrorists actually come into the country through the northern border with Canada, Morgan said issues there should be part of the conversation as well.

Morgan said he’s most frustrated by how children are brought into the country illegally under perilous conditions because coyotes exploit vulnerabilities at the border. He said agents perform thousands of water rescues when families are left at a body of water that isn’t safe to cross.

“I don’t understand why anyone would be against developing a process that stops that from happening,” he said.

Democrats have said they are willing to have a debate over border security but not while unrelated agencies are being held for ransom by the shutdown. But Morgan said the shutdown is a necessary last stand for the president to force a solution to a problem that Washington has failed to fully address for decades.

“In my heart of hearts, I truly believe we have to resolve this issue: It’s in the best interest of this country,” Morgan said. “We have to stop looking at the issue through our own ideological lens, setting aside our emotions, and it’s not being done.”