Former acting director of ICE says border wall not ‘moral issue’ but ‘important tool'

Former acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Sandweg on Thursday said that the border wall is not a “moral issue,” but rather an “important tool” to help with border security.

Sandweg, who served during the Obama administration, emphasized that, while physical barriers are an important part of border security, he argued much of the wall that is needed has already been built.

“I certainly don’t look at the wall as any sort of moral issue — walls are a valuable and important tool in border security,” Sandweg told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton on “Rising.”

“The truth is, however, where we need walls, for the most part, they’ve been built,” he continued.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE last Friday declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border after failing to secure his demanded $5.7 billion in a funding bill. Before making the declaration, Trump reluctantly signed a bill that included just $1.7 billion in border security measures.

"We're going to confront the national security crisis on our southern border," Trump said while announcing his national emergency.

Trump’s declaration has already faced legal pushbacks. Sixteen states have sued the Trump administration, questioning the use of his presidential powers.

But Sandweg argued that the U.S. is suffering from a humanitarian crisis — not a security crisis at the southern border.

“Are walls helpful? Certainly can be, but if you look at today’s crisis, what would be the most valuable thing to spend any of our taxpayer money on, the wall would be far down on the list,” he told Hill.TV.

The former acting ICE chief said that taxpayer money should instead be used to beef up other areas of border security, such as improving technology for border patrol agents and hiring more judges to address the backlog of cases that have "overwhelmed" the immigration system. 

“It’s unacceptable for an asylum case to take four or five years, but the simple solution to that is to build a surge force of immigration judges to get in there, move these cases along quickly and we can restore some integrity to the process,” Sandweg told Hill.TV.

Even though the immigration court backlog has been on the rise for the past decade, pending cases have jumped by nearly 50 percent since President Trump took office, according to Syracuse’s immigration court backlog tracker.

There are now more than 800,000 cases waiting to be resolved, and roughly 325 judges to process those cases. Most defendants wait an average of 2 years before seeing a judge to fight deportation, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Both the Department of Justice and Congress have proposed various measures to tackle the growing issue. Last year, the Trump administration also increased the number of judges, but Sandweg said it’s still not enough.

"The people are all being caught, they're all being background checked — the problem is we just can't get them through the process because of this backlogs in the immigration courts," he told Hill.TV.

—Tess Bonn