ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now let's take a look at one of the architects of President Trump's immigration policy. White House aide Stephen Miller has stood by the president's side from the very beginning. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now to discuss Miller's role in implementing Trump's vision on immigration.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Remind us who Stephen Miller is.
LIASSON: Stephen Miller is a youngish aide. He's been with Trump since the beginning of the campaign. He worked for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate, and he has been an immigration restrictionist since long before Trump ran. He has a kind of interesting background. He grew up as a conservative contrarian in liberal Santa Monica, Calif. And he became a right-wing media star while he was a student at Duke University.
But then he got an opportunity with Trump, and he is the strongest voice inside the White House on immigration. He really knows his brief. And he's also been one of the most fiercely loyal defenders of Donald Trump on television. And here he is in 2017 talking about the Muslim ban, which is the first big restrictionist immigration fight that the president picked.
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STEPHEN MILLER: Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.
LIASSON: So the president's powers are substantial, but they are questioned by other institutions. And one of the reasons that Trump has been so frustrated is that while Kirstjen Nielsen, for instance, didn't push back against his immigration goals, she explained to him on several occasions that what he wanted to do was probably unconstitutional. She was a reality check he didn't want. But now, with the housecleaning at the Department of Homeland Security, Trump will be able to remake the personnel in charge of immigration more in his own image. And Miller will be guiding that.
SHAPIRO: OK. So President Trump is now talking about a tougher immigration policy, something that Miller certainly supports. What do the two of them mean by that? What does the president want?
LIASSON: Well, the president wants some big things that we know about. He wants a wall. He wants to stop the immigration lottery. He wants to stop chain migration. There's been some talk at the White House about creating an immigration czar. The president himself has talked about maybe stopping asylum altogether or closing the border, putting punitive tariffs on Mexico for not stopping immigration. But mostly, he wants to make it harder for asylum-seekers to get in so that he stops this surge at the border.
SHAPIRO: Some of these things would require congressional action. Right?
LIASSON: That's right. But a senior administration official who briefed reporters today argued that just by changing some regulations - if DHS could just, for instance, toughen up the criteria for credible fear, you know, which asylum-seekers have to prove...
LIASSON: ...Giving fewer work permits to people in the asylum process, changing the options that families have for staying together while they're applying for asylum.
The Trump - the White House believes that would make significant changes in the numbers of asylum-seekers. That would be a deterrent even without congressional actions. So the president wants to make regulatory changes that would - could result in families being separated without - as you just heard a few moments ago - without having it be an explicit policy.
One of the things, by the way, that this senior administration official complained about is that the career people at DHS were not mission-aligned - in other words, not committed enough to the president's vision - and that the political appointees they've put in that agency can't seem to work the bureaucracy.
SHAPIRO: And are we just talking about the border here? Or are we talking about the entire immigration system, meaning airports, other ports of entry, immigration as a whole?
LIASSON: Well, I think that they would like to deal with immigration at the whole. But right now they're focused on the border. Don't forget; we've already had a big upsurge in numbers of people crossing illegally. And they are expecting the April numbers to be even worse, maybe over 100,000 illegal apprehensions, which, on the one hand, helps the president make the argument that there's a crisis; on the other hand, it makes it look like he's not succeeding.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thanks a lot.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.