Oct 1, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Trump suggested shooting southern border migrants, NYT book excerpt claims

Trump walking.

Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

An adaptation published Tuesday of the upcoming book "Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration," details President Trump's plans to secure the southern border with snake-filled trenches and shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down.

The big picture: The book by New York Times reporters Michael D. Shear and Julie Hirschfeld Davis is based on interviews with more than a dozen anonymous White House and administration officials involved in Trump's attempts to implement immigration policy and fulfill his campaign promises on the issue.

What they're saying:

"Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him."

The excerpt details specific clashes with staff over Trump's attempts to close the border, particularly with former Homeland Security Advisor Kirstjen Nielsen.

  • The NYT passage claims Trump would tell Nielsen, “Lou Dobbs hates you, Ann Coulter hates you, you’re making me look bad," and that he believed she didn't appear tough enough.
  • But the story noted the "happiest [Trump] had been" with Nielsen was when American border agents fired tear gas to deter migrants from crossing the southern border.

The passage also chronicles how Nielsen, Jared Kushner and others tried to explain why closing the border was a poor idea, but struggled to get through to the president.

  • Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan reportedly shut down Trump's plan to stop letting migrants cross the border, despite the president offering a pardon should McAleenan face trouble.
    • "After the president left the room, Mr. McAleenan told the agents to ignore the president. You absolutely do not have the authority to stop processing migrants altogether, he warned."

It later describes Nielsen's downfall after frequent spats with Trump.

  • "Unbeknown to her, Ms. Nielsen's staff started work on her letter of resignation," the Times notes. Her ousting was in part due to efforts of Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, who sought a complete overhaul of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • The article goes on to explain the president said he'd wait a week to announce Nielsen's eventual resignation, but tweeted about it the same day.

What to watch: The book will be available Oct. 8.

Go deeper: Every high-profile Trump administration departure

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