Bannon on Immigration: The Wall Is Not Racist. It Can Bind Us Together.


Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist who helped lead Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, sat down with Shaun Hair, the executive editor of The Western Journal, to discuss immigration, the 2020 election and China.

The transcript of this portion of the interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Hair: You were just at the Symposium at the Wall. There were a lot of prominent conservatives there. You were there, Donald Trump Jr., some social media —

Bannon: [David] Bossie, Corey Lewandowski, all the influencers. Had 30 young influencers.

Hair: So, tell me a bit about that — what the goal was for that meeting?

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Bannon: First off, we build the wall. It’s at the landmark three-quarters of a mile we built in the El Paso, [Texas] sector, right there in Mount Cristo Rey and Sunland Park, New Mexico — one of the most dangerous parts of the entire border, on private land. This is one of the things that President [Donald] Trump, with the Army Corps of Engineers and a big army, they’re building long swaths of wall in the Rio Grande Valley and Arizona and California.

There’s certain pockets, niches, that the government or the Army Corps of Engineers, on private land, have just sort of skipped over for a host of reasons. And that’s where we kind of tuck in. The thing is so impressive. We wanted to have a conference out there with the best and brightest in [Washington] D.C. to talk about all the issues — asylum, cartels, trafficking — all these complicated issues with immigration, because these issues are not obviously simple. And then add in 30 to 35 young influencers — people on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — so that they could understand what these issues are and start to become part of the distribution of that content, and so it came out much better than we thought.

And now, I think we’re working on some ideas about actually doing a truncated version of this and taking it around the country. We had, basically, citizens from El Paso and people who flew in from all over the country come, and basically the response was just enormous. So, I think we’re very happy with it.

Hair: So, when you bring in the influencers, and you’re right there, like you said, in a dangerous area, I saw some footage where actually some of the people were taken on tours along the border. Tell me some of the feedback that you got from people that are seeing things firsthand that they’ve only ever seen on the TV screen.

Bannon: This is why — and I want to get [Publisher] Floyd [Brown] and people from The Western Journal down there — you can’t understand the wall until you actually go and see it.

This goes up a 33 percent incline on Mount Cristo Rey, and it was in one of the most trafficked parts of where the cartels come across. There’s a wall on the other side of the Rio Grande in El Paso, and then on the other side of this mountain. This was a zone where they had 19 cartel paths, and the cartel guys are still up there on the other side. It’s important that people understand this that, these walls — and this is what we’re converting in New Mexico and in El Paso, Texas. Even moderates and Democrats understand now, the power of putting up a wall.

This wall, the key to the wall right now, is to break the backs of the cartels. The cartels have gone really from drug trafficking to human trafficking to sex worker trafficking. That’s got to be stopped. This wall helps the people in Juarez, [Mexico] as much as it helps the people in Guatemala, and I think that’s what the participants, the citizens that came — many of whom that came really didn’t understand why we were building the wall — from Sunland Park came and said, “Hey, this thing’s really changing our lives.”

Border Patrol made an announcement at the seminar that our section of the wall shut down 100 percent any cartel intrusions through that sector. So these walls work. The wall is not a final solution to the immigration problem, but it’s the beginning. And ours is kind of a high-tech wall with fiber optics and access roads, cameras, drones — the whole thing. It’s the beginning of a solution for our security, and also to help the people in northern Mexico because they’ve really been essentially taken over by these paramilitary operations called cartels.

Hair: What is your hope as far as the progression of reform at the border? Is it the wall, then what’s next? What do you hope happens?

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Bannon: The first thing we’ve got to do, and I think this is where the wall is going to help, is to basically force people, make people go through ports of entry. I think once certain people are through ports of entry, we’ll be able to get a handle on the asylum. Besides the “safe third country” aspects of Mexico and Central America, that would be the beginning of stopping this massive humanitarian crisis we have at the border right now. I do believe that this kind of biblical tragedy we have in Central America has got to be addressed by the U.S. government. I know that President Trump is all over this. We have got to sort out the problem down there to keep it down there.

I think they’ve had not just massive economic problems, I think they’ve had now cartels and gangs that are essentially becoming paramilitary operations that are more powerful than their police, more powerful than their Federales, more powerful than the armies. And what you’re seeing is kind of the crime and the collapse of civil society in many of these countries.

Look, it’s the same situation in sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, you see in Italy, with the rise of [Deputy Prime Minister Matteo] Salvini where he tried to stop it. The same issues in those countries are the same issues in Central America. And I think we have to begin to address that.

President Trump, I know, is all over it. He’s played a little bit of hardball. I mean, just on Friday, Guatemala agreed to become a safe third-party country. That means with all the agreements that are signed, that once you set foot in Guatemala, you claim political asylum there, you stay in Guatemala. And we help them deal with the political asylum issue so we don’t have to deal with it here in the United States. Because essentially most of these are, I believe, economic migrants — which is really the immigration system, meaning really you just have to get in line.

Hair: And Guatemala is saying that it’s important. They talk about getting migrants from the northern triangle where we haven’t had that many before and now the numbers are increasing. So if we can help those countries deal with the migrants, it will help what we’re having, even at the ports of entry.

Bannon: This is what we’re trying to explain to the American people, and not just conservatives, and that’s the reason we brought Numbers USA, Center for Immigration Studies, we brought the heads of the Border Patrol union and [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. So folks understand, there’s an illegal immigration problem. There’s also an asylum crisis. These have to be addressed, and you know President Trump, this is a huge priority. Friday was a big day. We got the 2.5 billion approved by the Supreme Court, which still doesn’t mean we have total free sailing. I told The Wall Street Journal, it’s jet-fuel that turbo-charges his effort with the Army Corps of Engineers to build big swaths of wall.

However, the environmental groups, these local townships are still trying to block him in the courts and through other issues such as permitting and things. So every day is a struggle, and at least he’s got access to some resources. They can start to build and you’re going to see. Like I said, the wall on the southern border is not a total solution, it’s the beginning of a solution. Until you can seal off the southern border, you’re just going to have problem after problem after problem.

Hair: When you were there, were you able to speak with some of the ICE agents or Border Patrol agents? And I’m curious, if you were, what are their biggest frustrations?

A lot of the messages that Heartland America gets, that we hear, have already been filtered through media or through politicians. So, on the ground, you are talking to agents. What are their biggest frustrations with the situation there?

Bannon: Number one, if you go to We Build the Wall, what you’re going to see if you go to Sunland Park, New Mexico, right across the Rio Grande from El Paso, the Border Patrol pointed and said this is the most dangerous spot we have except for some spots down near Laredo in the Rio Grande Valley. This, in this country, is the most dangerous spot. We took their guides and that’s when we went to the private property owner and built there.

At the seminar we actually had Brandon Judd, the head of the Border Patrol union, and Chris Crane, the head of the ICE union. Here’s the thing that I think folks have got to understand is that now the left is going after these agents personally. They’re having a massive recruiting problem. They’re doxing these agents. They’re trying to demonize these agents in their own communities. So the recruiting problem.

What the progressive left wants is open borders. One way they know they can get that is to basically take the law enforcement agencies of the Customs and Border [Protection] and ICE and basically not just destroy morale but put their families and themselves in jeopardy in their home communities. This is something that needs to be addressed. We need to restaff. We need to get more. We’re already lagging way behind in recruiting on these groups. We have to do a much better job. These people actually helped us craft the wall.

In fact, we’re very proud. We call it “Deplorables Highway.” We actually have a very sophisticated, it’s reinforced rebar, the best steel in the world. President Trump doesn’t like the round barrel at the end [of the fence posts]. We actually have the kick-plate up that he likes. It’s fiber optics 10 feet down so you can’t burrow underneath it. It can also tell when people are 10 or 15 feet away. We have cameras up and down. We have light poles, I think every hundred feet. They throw high volume light on the wall at night. And we have cameras in each one that feed back to a central data center that the Border Patrol can see. And, most importantly, we built an access road. It takes forever to get up to there on these dirt roads, so we put an access road. These are all the specifications of the border. What Brandon Judd said is this is the most sophisticated portion of the wall on the entire border.

We have to have these people’s backs. If we start to lose the Border Patrol, if we lose ICE agents for internal enforcement, we are going to have a mess in this country.

You saw the other day the ICE evolution to go throughout the country and get these 3,000 criminal aliens. We only got 35 because it got leaked out, and certain people and certain law enforcement agencies and others weren’t really helping to participate. This is a major problem.

The tour that we’re doing is called “Every Town a Border Town,” because what people up in the north — we had a radio row and we had people from up in North Dakota coming down — and what people don’t understand [is] these cartels are paramilitary operations. They’re in high-margin businesses. They’re in every township and every city. This is how the opioids get there. That’s how the drugs get there. That’s how the crime starts.

You know, in 2015, the Chicago Crime Commission — which has been around for over 100 years — named public enemy number one in Chicago for the first time since 1929. The last person they named was Al Capone. In 2015, they named the first person since Al Capone was [Joaquin] “El Chapo” [Guzman]. If you remember the summer of 2015, the high murder rates that were coming in Chicago because of drug wars — turf wars driven by the Mexican cartels.

These cartels are in every township and every major city in the United States. They’re causing havoc in human trafficking, in sex worker trafficking and in drugs.

Hair: You said something a few seconds ago that connects to this in a really interesting way for me. A lot of times when I talk to Republicans or conservatives, they kind of dance around whether or not they want to speculate if the left wants open borders. You just came right out and said they want open borders.

Bannon: I think they’re pretty open about it.

Hair: What do they hope to gain from that?

Bannon: I think they hope to gain tons of voters.

I mean, they’re very open. Listen, at the first Democratic debate when [the moderators] said, “Who here will agree with Medicare for All, or unlimited health care, for illegal aliens?” And all of [the candidates] raised their hands.

I think all of their policies are open borders. Half of the candidates, or a third of the candidates, said they want to abolish ICE. They want to abolish the internal enforcement mechanism for deportations in this country. That’s where they’re fighting President Trump. Not just the Republican establishment or the Chamber of Commerce. They’re all fighting President Trump every step of the way in the budget process, through the courts, through these lawsuits for all their other groups associated with them. They’re fighting President Trump every day.

What the Border Patrol said, what Brandon Judd said, when congressmen came down and called the areas where they collect people “concentration camps,” that’s equating Border Patrol officers to the Waffen-SS and Nazis. And in their home communities, this is now what’s being spray-painted on their homes. This what their kids are being taunted with at school.

That is how you’re going to lose Border Patrol.

I’ve talked to a lot of folks down there, and they’re either retired or thinking of retiring because they just can’t take it anymore.

Remember, the reason we don’t have border security in this country is two-fold. It’s the Democrats and the Republicans.

The Republicans have always wanted that cheap [labor]. The Chamber of Commerce and certain elements of the Republican Party — not the base, but certain elements of the Republican Party — have always wanted unlimited illegal alien labor. And that’s what’s kept wages down. President Trump is saying no. That’s another reason we have to seal the border. It’s to protect African-American and Hispanic workers, low-skilled workers. That’s why you’re starting to see unemployment is at an all-time low for African-Americans and at a 50-year low for Hispanics. Simply for the reason that we’re trying to enforce now immigration laws at the border. This is all because of President Trump.

Here’s another thing. This wall benefits the people in Juarez. Juarez has gone from a beautiful border town to the 37th-highest homicide rate in the world. It’s one of the most dangerous cities on earth because of the cartels. This wall is to protect the people in northern Mexico and in Juarez, just as it’s to protect the people in Sunland Park, in El Paso, Texas, and in Guatemala.

This is not a racist thing. It’s actually what can bind us together. We had so many, I think we had 75 percent of the audience for these three days — we had several hundred people there, we were sold out — and they were principally Hispanic people. And they’re sitting there going, “I’ve been an El Paso native my entire life and this part of the wall, where you’ve positioned it to stop the cartels, has been almost a godsend.” This is why we want to take it throughout the country.

This is not only non-racist, this is what can bind us together, because the principal beneficiaries of the security — just like the ICE deportations — are minority communities.

Hair: That’s a good point. If the cartels are threatened by the wall, have the builders and people on-site having to do the construction work had any pushback? Has it been dangerous for them?

Bannon: Yes. When we had the wall, this is going straight up a hill. This is equivalent, for people that understand the history of Israel or the Roman empire, this was graded like Masada. It’s off a cliff-face with deep ravines. And so we graded, basically just like the Roman engineers did, we graded a 33 percent grade — which is like a ski slope all the way up.

During that time, they had the complete spotters right there from the cartel. You still see that there every day. The cartels are quite angry about this.

There’s a lot of intimidation of the Border Patrol guys and others down there, but somebody has to take a stand. You’re just not going to wave a magic wand and they’re going to go away. These are very sophisticated paramilitary operations with very smart logistics. Very smart operation. Very smart marketing. These are very sophisticated. Anybody that thinks the Mexican cartels are not very sophisticated does not understand the enemy we have.

There are sections up around northern Mexico — Juarez and sections around Juarez — that are much more dangerous than Afghanistan. And that’s why we’re fighting kind of a war against these cartels. You know, President Trump has talked, it’s been bandied about, actually to name the Sinaloas a terrorist organization. And the Border Patrol and ICE both agreed at the symposium that they should be designated terrorist organizations.

This is as serious as it gets, and people need to understand. If you’re watching this and you’re in Cincinnati, Ohio, or Detroit, Michigan, one of the central problems of the opioid and the drug trade coming into your city is coming from northern Mexico — coming up through these cartels.

The Western Journal divided the above interview into three parts. The above transcript is part 1 of 3. You can watch the interview in its entirety here.

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