Administration's immigration crackdown sparks fierce debate

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 21, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Department of Homeland Security issuing a memo kind of laying out
the Trump immigration policy, this as we wait for another version of that
extreme vetting executive order that has been challenged in court. We
don't know whether they will continue to challenge it or pull it off and
use the new one.

But here's what the memo says on the immigration crackdown. "Prioritizing
criminal illegal aliens and others for deportation, including those
convicted or charged with any criminal offense or who have abused any
public welfare program. Starting the plan and design of construction of
the U.S.-Mexico border wall, hiring 10,000 ICE agents and officers as well
as 5,000 border patrol agents, expands the local officers as immigration
agents as well, and catch and release policies under which illegal
immigrants subject to deportation potentially are allowed to abscond and
fail to appear at removal hearings, on then the new director would not
affect the Obama-era protections for Dreamers, the illegal immigrants who
came to the U.S. as children and others given a reprieve in 2014."

The ACLU issuing a statement, saying "These memo confirm the Trump
administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the
well-being of our communities, and even protection for vulnerable children
in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy. However,
President Trump does not have that last word here. The courts and the
public will not allow this un-American dream to become reality."

That's where we are tonight. Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, editor
in chief of The Weekly Standard; Mara Liasson, national political correspondent of National Public Radio, and editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham.

OK, Mara, this looks like it is laying out the enforcement
of existing law.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Yes. And the president has broad
discretion on how to do that. Congress appropriates money to deport about
450,000 people a year, and that is pretty much when you look back over the
years, that's more or less what President Obama did.

BAIER: Let's put up the chart, the deportations by criminals from DHS,
this goes back 2009 to 2016.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Now, what President Trump is doing
that's a little bit different is he's giving DHS a little more discretion.
He is saying any criminal offense. Now, a criminal offense could be to
come into the country or be working illegally. So I think what we are
waiting to see is does this turn into something that the public sees as a
mass deportation force that truly is disrupting families, disrupting
communities, and does it look bad. Already they have taken one important
step to make sure that doesn't happen, which is they are leaving the
Dreamers alone. And the Dreamers are the most sympathetic illegal
immigrants in the country.

BAIER: Laura?

expanded the prosecutorial discretion to the leniency side in his
administration. So he gave the government a lot more leeway to parole
illegal immigrants back into the United States. So if they are here
illegally, you parole them in, they are not process or expedited for

What Trump wants to do in part, what President Trump is laying out, is the
ways of looking at immigration enforcement really don't make sense. If you
are caught within 100 miles of the border in the first 14 days of your
arriving here, then you can be processed under certain circumstances for
expedited removal right out of the country, no longwinded hearing and
waiting years to get someone out of the country.

So one of the things they're going to do that I think will be quite popular
is expand that to all interior enforcement for a certain type of
criminality -- using false documents to get government benefits, something
that Michael Rubio said in the gang of eight bill we would not tolerate.
We wouldn't tolerate welfare, we wouldn't tolerate them getting Obamacare.
In fact a shocking percentage of illegal immigrants are on both Medicaid
and getting other types of disability benefits, food stamps, a lot of them
have children. And if you poll that in the United States I would imagine
people aren't happy about that because of the money we're spending.

So I think a lot of the stuff he's doing is actually going to be quite
popular, but of course the Democrats are going to portray this as a mass
deportation forces going door-to-door, et cetera.

BAIER: This empowerment of local police officers that Laura mentions in
this memo, this is what Sheriff Joe Arpaio dealt with in Arizona and was
doing and came under fire for doing.

had other jurisdictions making the same request. I think Laura is exactly
right. If you look at what President Trump is proposing to do, he is
proposing to do the most popular things, the things that most Republicans
will agree with. I don't think you are going to see any of the things that
you listed on the original DHS sheet, you're not going to get objections
from most Republicans.

Beyond that, the reason that this makes sense to start this way is you're
not going to get objections from most of the people in the country.
Targeting criminal aliens first, who doesn't want to do that? Who's going
to argue against that other than the ACLU? What was so striking to me is
the ACLU was responding to something other than what the president had put
out. It was like, you read the ACLU statement, talk about targeting
innocent young children. The president and the DHS memo said precisely
that the president was not doing that.

Now, I happen to believe that what Trump is doing here is coming out with
the most popular items in the toughest items quickly. He's doing what he
said he was going to do when he campaigned. I think what follows, and we
heard this I think in the tease, the first thing you played, this is about
love, this is a house of love, is going to be something much more like a
compromise. And then the question becomes whether people like Laura, who
have fought this --


HAYES: I mean, I mean that in a serious way. People like Laura -- not
gang of eight. I don't think he would go that far. But he's going to come
up with some kind of a compromise that is I think not going to be what --

LIASSON: That is not where the Republican Party is right now. That is not
where the Republican Party is right now.

INGRAHAM: But it's hardline -- I mean, again, this is how you couch it.
Is it hardline to think that immigration law has to mean something? At
some point in our history crossing the border has to be taken seriously.
Otherwise we just say if we can find you and you commit a crime, we will
remove you from the country. That just continues what we've seen which is
actually putting young people in a lot of danger.

BAIER: To Steve's point, though, eventually you have to get to the point
that we come to every time we talk about this, which is how do you deal
with the millions who are here? We don't even know how many millions there

INGRAHAM: I have said consistently that once you build up credibility at
the border, then people are a lot more hospitable to making some time of
reasonable compromises, people who truly are not criminal law breakers or
haven't had a lot of DUIs or any of that stuff. But right now we have very
little credibility on the border. At least our previous president, we had
have a lot of catch and release going on and we had way too much
prosecutorial discretion of the leniency side. So once that is put to rest
I think people would be much more hospitable.

HAYES: Not to put words in your mouth, but your other argument was that
Republicans hadn't establish that credibility. It was one of the reasons
voters didn't believe Republicans when they said that.

BAIER: Here's the Department of Homeland Security secretary talking about
the border wall.


HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY JOHN KELLY: The border is a very different
place. Texas is different than the Big Bend, Texas, which is different
than Yuma. So we will get out there, kick the tires, talk to the people on
the ground. But there are places that we need to get at the issue of a
physical barrier right away.


BAIER: And this memo goes into the specifics with DHS identifying three
locations, El Paso, Texas, Tucson, Arizona, El Centro, California, where a
wall will be built in areas where the fence are no longer effective. That
is symbolic as well, Mara. No one really believes I don't think that it's
going to go wall to wall across the entire border, but this is what DHS is
laying out.

LIASSON: That's right. And look, every president wants to enact the
things they promised during the campaign, and that's what he's going to do.
He has already said maybe in some places the border wall will be a fence,
but none of his supporters are go to hold him to building an actual
concrete wall for every single mile on the border. And I think he can get
away with doing exactly that.

BAIER: But there will be a big, beautiful door.


INGRAHAM: What will Republicans accept --


INGRAHAM: Some people might want that rephrased slightly. But it's
a poetic way of saying we are a welcoming country, which I think we are.
But you just have to do it the right way.

HAYES: Every time you see something like the ACLU statement or you hear an
overreaction from somebody like Ben Cardin to what I think most people
regard as pretty common sense measures, that's doing Republicans and
President Trump a favor.

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