President Donald Trump has made no secret of his plan to stop the influx of migrants through the U.S.-Mexico border, whether by restricting asylum admissions, weaponizing tariffs, and, of course, building his “big, beautiful” border wall no matter what laws stand in his way. In March, the president even publicly threatened to completely shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, economic consequences be damned. While the total border shutdown didn’t come to pass, the New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump’s serious desire to see it happen resulted in “far more White House turmoil than was known at the time”—and it’s far from the only damaging border solution the president’s dreamed up.
Per the Times‘s excerpt of Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear‘s forthcoming book Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration, the president’s shutdown idea was one of several he’s had about how to keep immigrants off the U.S. Mexico border. Other suggestions the president has privately floated: Fortifying the border wall with electric spikes “that could pierce human flesh” and “a water-filled trench,” which would naturally be “stocked with snakes or alligators.” Trump has also suggested shooting migrants who throw rocks at immigration officials and “shoot[ing] migrants in the legs to slow them down,” only to be told that committing violence against migrants at-will is, in fact, illegal. (Though White House aides did reportedly “seek a cost estimate” for the alligator-filled moat.)
But Trump was most insistent about his plan to shut down the border completely, forcefully insisting that it be done by “noon tomorrow” during a March Oval Office meeting. “You are making me look like an idiot!” Trump reportedly shouted at the meeting when advisers argued against the idea, except laden with more profanity. “I ran on this. It’s my issue.” Advisers present at the Oval Office meeting, including top officials like then-Homeland Secretary chief Kirstjen Nielsen and Jared Kushner, reportedly left the meeting “in a near panic” and launched a wide-scale Republican effort to change Trump’s mind when given a week-long extension. But the president pressed on with his shutdown desires, going rogue by telling then-Customs and Border Protection chief Kevin McAleenan to completely stop admitting migrants at the border and saying he would pardon him if McAleenan got into trouble for it. When Trump visited a room full of Border Patrol agents later in the week, he “worked [the] room” and told the agents to “start turning away migrants at the border” and “keep them all out.” (As soon as Trump left, McAleenan told the agents to ignore Trump and that they did not have the authority to completely stop migrant processing.)
While Trump ultimately backed off of his shutdown, the chaotic week did have one major result: A Homeland Security staff shake-up unsurprisingly orchestrated by Stephen Miller. The notoriously anti-immigration adviser reportedly took the opportunity to convince Trump to oust the White House officials who were standing in Trump’s way of blocking immigration, saying that “they had become part of the problem by constantly citing legal hurdles.” The purge, which included Homeland Security Under-Secretary Claire M. Grady and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services head L. Francis Cissna, was kicked off by Nielsen’s forced resignation. Trump had long been wary of Nielsen, who pushed back on Trump’s plans to totally disregard the law and was viewed by the president as a member of the “deep state.” (The former secretary’s one high point with Trump was apparently when she fired tear gas into Mexico.) “Kirstjen, you didn’t hear me the first time, honey,” Trump reportedly said during one meeting on legal authority for taking down drones, cutting Nielsen off mid-sentence. “Shoot ’em down. Sweetheart, just shoot ’em out of the sky, O.K.?” The final straw for Nielsen reportedly came after Trump told the secretary “what he really needed was a cement wall,” to which Nielsen responded, “Sir, I literally don’t think that’s even possible.” “Kirstjen, I want to make a change,” Trump said in response.