RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It is Day 21 of the partial federal government shutdown. And there is no compromise in sight. President Trump still wants $5.7 billion for a border wall. Democrats refuse to fund it at all. Caught in the middle, hundreds of thousands of federal workers who are not getting a paycheck today because Congress and the president can't find a way to reopen the government.
So far, most Republicans in Congress are sticking by the president, including our next guest, Congressman Gary Palmer of Alabama. He chairs the policy committee for House Republicans. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
GARY PALMER: Thanks for having me on, Rachel.
MARTIN: Both sides have to give in any kind of compromise deal. You're a Republican, so I'm going to ask you about your party and where you see that give. Where should the Republicans and the president be willing to compromise to end the shutdown?
PALMER: Well, I think you might - could compromise on the amount of money that's needed. Although, I think the $5.7 billion is - at least that much is needed. And it's not just - I think there's some misunderstanding out there about what we're trying to do. It's not just a - it's not about a wall. It's about border security. Part of it includes fencing, however - whatever the form that might be.
But almost a billion of it is for humanitarian aid. It's to provide more beds. It's to provide more medical care and relief for those folks who are trying to get across the border that need our help. And I don't think that message gets out very well. And that's on us, I think, that we're not communicating as well about what all we're trying to do with the funding.
MARTIN: The president has said that if he can't get Congress and Democrats to give him that $5.7 billion, that he will declare a national emergency to end what is really a political battle. Do you think that's a good idea?
PALMER: Well, I think what's going on at the border is an emergency. And we've been talking about this - Democrats have talked about it, that it was a humanitarian disaster. I mean, just a - this has been ongoing for - really, ever since I've been in Congress, when all those children started showing up. That was happening during the Obama administration. I do think it is - it has devolved into a political battle.
And - and, you know, I realize I'm a Republican. It's going to sound partisan. But when you sit down in a room to try to talk through things and try to resolve a problem, you have to have both sides willing to engage in that discussion. And that's not happening with the other side of the aisle. And I can tell you, Rachel, that there are people on the other side of the aisle that want to see this resolved because they realize that people are suffering.
MARTIN: I mean, it's been - Democrats and Republicans have agreed that something needs to be done at the border. I think where the problem lies is in the fact that people aren't dealing with the same facts, right?
You hear Sarah Sanders talk about thousands of people who are connected to terrorism coming across that southern border. And that's just not true. I mean, data from Customs and Border Protection proves otherwise, that it's - the number is closer to between six and 12.
PALMER: Well, it doesn't matter what the number is in the sense - and what they've - what we know is that there were at least 3,000 people whose travel patterns warranted special attention. And those were all at the southern border. But when you talk about it's only six or 12 that came across the southern border, it was only 19 that took down the World Trade Towers. I mean, I don't think we ought to get caught up in how many. If only one carried out an attack that killed hundreds or thousands of people, that's one too many.
And it's - you get lost in those things. I think what we've got to talk about is go back and look what we did in 2006 with the Secure Fence Act. We - we authorized funding for 700 - a little over 700 miles. We've built about 600-and-something miles of that, particularly in Yuma and Tucson. Border crossings, illegal crossings, are down 95 percent in Yuma. It works. But going back to...
MARTIN: But that's...
MARTIN: Go ahead.
PALMER: If I may, going back to what I'm saying, it's not just about fencing. It's also about the humanitarian aid. It's about more Border Patrol agents. It's about more technology being used and particularly for interdicting drugs.
MARTIN: Right. But even the Department of Homeland Security says just over 400,000 people illegally entered the U.S. in 2018. That is down from 1.6 million in the year 2000. So you talk about being a crisis.
PALMER: But it's up...
MARTIN: ...But it's down.
PALMER: It's up from - it's up from four of the last five years. So, you know, again, when you get into numbers, your baseline is 2,000. But when you say that border - illegal border crossings are up, they are up from four of the last five years.
MARTIN: Let me ask you kind of about a different aspect of this. We recently interviewed Mark Krikorian on this show. He's the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which is a conservative group that wants stricter immigration caps.
And he said President Trump's focus on the wall - because he has focused on this idea of a wall, rhetorically - that it comes at the expense of other policy changes that he wants to see. Let's listen to this clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
MARK KRIKORIAN: More border barriers, like I said, they're important. But there are other things that are more important, things like plugging loopholes in our asylum laws, E-Verify and what have you.
MARTIN: What do you make of that?
PALMER: Well, I haven't read his studies. And I don't know the gentleman, so I really can't comment on it.
MARTIN: But do you think the president's focus on the wall is jeopardizing larger, more conservative efforts to curb immigration?
PALMER: Well, the president has repeatedly shown a willingness to compromise, and even in the context of whether it's a wall or a fence or whatever you want to call it. And again, the funding for this is not just about fencing.
And we realized we're not going to build a fence or a wall or a barrier along the entire southern border. What we're trying to do is secure the border. And that's a combination of more Border Patrol agents, technology and fencing.
MARTIN: Congressman Gary Palmer, a Republican of Alabama, we appreciate your time this morning, Sir. Thanks for coming in.
PALMER: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.