Coast Guard chief: 'Shortsighted' to think border wall will end illegal immigration

Coast Guard chief: 'Shortsighted' to think border wall will end illegal immigration
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The Coast Guard’s top admiral said Wednesday it would be “shortsighted” to think building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will stem illegal immigration on its own.

"I think we’d be shortsighted to think that if we build a wall that will end all the drivers for illegal migration,” Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said at an event in Washington when asked if he’s expecting an increase of illegal immigration via the ocean.

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"If you can’t come across a terrestrial border between Mexico and the United States, then go around it," he continued. "We keep a very close eye on what those trends are. Hasn’t happened, but that would probably be several years [away]."

Zukunft, who has announced his retirement for June, was speaking to the Defense Writers Group as about 1,600 National Guard troops are deploying to the border in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to support the Department of Homeland Security’s border security mission.

The guardsmen are deploying as part of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE's plan for the military to shore up the border until his administration builds his long-proposed border wall.

Some lawmakers have suggested a better use of resources would be to bulk up the Coast Guard as it deals with a record number of drug interdictions.

In fiscal 2017, the Coast Guard seized 223.8 metric tons of cocaine, compared with 201.3 metric tons the previous year.

“If you want to go where the problem is, fund the Coast Guard,” Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiOvernight Defense: Lawmakers on edge over Iran tensions | Questions rise after State pulls personnel from Iraq | Senators demand briefing | House panel advances 0B Pentagon spending bill | Warren offers plan on climate threats to military House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars Unchain seniors from chained inflation index MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard, said on CNN last week.

Asked Wednesday about the issue of Guard deployments vs. Coast Guard resources, Zukunft said he met last week with Homeland Security Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump ICE director nominee called administration 'heartless' for forcing him out: report Acting DHS secretary threatened to quit after clashing with Miller: report Trump wants border wall black, pointed: report MORE — under whose department the Coast Guard falls — and that she and him are on the same page.

He described the proposed border wall as defense, while the Coast Guard can go on the offense with interdictions on the water.

“I really look at our border as a system,” Zukunft said. “And I did meet with our secretary last week. ... She looks at the wall as a system, in fact, as well. So when you look at a wall, I mean, that is a clear defensive posture, and it’s a physical barrier. But what other barriers or what borders exists beyond that wall, and that is maritime borders.”

Asked about what resources he needs immediately, Zukunft said his top priority is the United States’ relationship with Colombia to stop cocaine smuggling at its source. 

“First and foremost, resume aerial eradication. Stop the cultivation,” he said. “The next is work within what I would call relatively ungoverned territories within Colombia. These shipments originate in the river systems of Colombia where there are no roadways. … There is not a riverine interdiction program to stop this at the source before this cocaine even reaches the high seas. And so we’re working with our country team in Bogota, working with Colombia national police and our military counterparts to see, can we set up a riverine interdiction program.”