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NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with Congressman Joaquin Castro about the resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen, the director of the Department of Homeland Security.



MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we’re going to address the breaking news out of Washington. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position. President Trump tweeted this information a short time ago. To talk more about this, we’ve called Representative Joaquin Castro. He’s a Democratic congressman from Texas. He represents much of San Antonio, not far from the U.S.-Mexico border. And he’s with us now. Congressman Castro, thank you so much for joining us once again.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What’s your reaction to this news that Secretary Nielsen is leaving?

CASTRO: Well, you know, I thought that she should have resigned before when she was not honest with Congress about the plan to separate families some time ago. She also was not honest when she came in front of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which I chair. And I asked her the question very directly whether she had any knowledge of children who had died or been seriously injured in the government’s custody, and she said no. And it turned out that wasn’t true. So she leaves behind a very tortured legacy of separating families, the remain in Mexico policy, just last week where the – Commissioner McAleenan, who’s now apparently going to be the acting secretary, they literally staged a press conference where they had women and children behind fences with razor wire.

And so it’s a very troubled legacy. And now, I got to say about her, I really think that anybody that comes within President Trump’s realm that’s doing immigration is going to get sucked into doing it the way that he does it. So I’m not saying that the things I described were all her ideas, but she certainly stepped up to take the job. And I think history will show that she was part of these very ugly policies.

MARTIN: President Trump has been signaling some kind of change over the last week – and the last couple of days, certainly – where he pulled his nominee for Customs and Border Protection for the head of that agency, saying he wants to go in a, quote, unquote, “tougher” direction. How do you interpret that? What do you think he means by that?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, you see what they’re doing. You know, as I mentioned, that press conference where they staged those folks behind chain link fences and razor wire, having them sleep on the ground for three or four nights or whatever it was. And the thing about that policy is that he has tried to convince us that if, as a nation, we just get crueler in terms of how we treat migrants, that less people will try to come here. But the exact opposite has happened. There are more people trying to come here. So his policy is a total failure. And I don’t see how getting meaner or crueler is going to help.

MARTIN: Do you have any concerns at all about making this change in the middle of this surge at the border? I understand, I mean, of course you’ve made it very clear that you disagree with his policies. You’ve also made it clear that you think some of his policies are in part responsible for what we’re seeing at the border. But do you have any concerns about this what seems to be a complete shakeup at the top of this agency in the middle of this situation?

CASTRO: Yeah. I mean, you ask a good question. And honestly, I hadn’t thought about that. We just got the news. But, I mean, look. I think Donald Trump, of all of the different policy areas that we deal with in the federal government – education, health care, immigration, so forth – I think this is the one that he probably pays attention to the most. And this is the area where he’s most in control or the people close to him are most in control. So I think anybody that comes in and takes that job is essentially going to be absolutely marching to Donald Trump’s drumbeat.

MARTIN: I understand that this is very new news. We’re just learning of this ourselves as well. I just wonder if you have any sense of whether Secretary Nielsen was pushed or did she jump herself and does that matter? Does it matter whether she resigned or whether she was fired?

CASTRO: You know, to be honest, probably not. You know, I had conversations with Republican colleagues in Congress over the last several months who say that they’ve known her personally and that she’s not the person that is described in the media, that she’s not this cold-hearted person who’s, you know, trying to inflict pain on migrants. But look, at the end of the day, if you take a job that calls for you to do that and enact these policies, then you’re on the hook for what this administration does.

And so, you know, and I have to agree with them to some point that, before all of this before, she was part of the Trump administration, there wasn’t necessarily an indication that she was malicious towards people. But like I said, she’s been part of what is going to go down in history as a very, very disturbing period in our nation’s history in terms of how we treat people.

MARTIN: Well, to your point that the policies are what are relevant now, do you have any plans to call Secretary Nielsen before you again for any reason? Do you have any questions for her that she can now answer because she’s no longer a part of the administration?

CASTRO: Oh, sure. I mean, we would – she had agreed to go and come in front of the Hispanic Caucus again. And of course now she’s resigning or leaving her job. So I don’t – we don’t have subpoena power, so I don’t know that she’ll end up doing that. But I absolutely think that the Homeland Security Committee and the Judiciary Committee – they absolutely should try to bring her back and ask her questions that, you know, that we all still have about the situation.

MARTIN: But like what? Give me just – we have 30 seconds left. What is one question that you have for her that you’d like to hear her answer?

CASTRO: Well, we still don’t know why these families were separated without a system to track them. There still is no answer to that, and the government is saying it’s going to take two years to finally reunite the families that were separated.

MARTIN: That is Congressman Joaquin Castro. He’s a Democrat from Texas. Congressman, thank you so much for talking to us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

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