SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Here is how President Trump explains why he's decided to declare a national emergency on the border with Mexico.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's very simple. We want to stop drugs from coming into our country. We want to stop criminals and gangs from coming into our country. Nobody's done the job that we've ever done. I mean, nobody's done the job that we've done on the border.
SIMON: That's from the Rose Garden yesterday. Let's turn now to somebody who used to oversee that border. Gil Kerlikowske was the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Obama administration. Before that, he was director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He was once the chief police of - chief of police of Seattle. He joins us on the line now. Thanks very much for being with us.
GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Of course.
SIMON: Mr. Kerlikowske, do you think there's an emergency of criminals and gangs coming in at the southern border?
KERLIKOWSKE: No, I don't. There's only a manufactured crisis by this president. When it was 1.6 million people coming across the border in 2000, that was a serious issue. Now it is well less than 400,000, and we have far more troops, people and technology on the border than ever before.
SIMON: As former director of National Drug Control Policy, what do you think would be the best use of resources to stop drugs - I'll mention specifically, let's say, heroin - from entering the United States?
KERLIKOWSKE: So first of all, the new STOP Act, which is a law that requires the United States Postal Service to step up their game - because we see a lot of heroin and fentanyl that come in through the Postal Service through the international mail - that's important. The other is to have better detection capabilities and, frankly, more people not so much between the ports of entry but at our ports of entry, which is where people come in, whether it's JFK or San Ysidro in California.
SIMON: I mentioned - I notice you don't mention a wall.
KERLIKOWSKE: I don't mention a wall. The marijuana comes between the ports of entry, but marijuana seizures have been down for many years - probably eight or nine years. You know, we have 10 states that made a decision to legalize marijuana. We have a lot of marijuana that's grown in the United States. So the marijuana issues, which I saw the president standing in front of bales of marijuana, those aren't the things - you know, that isn't killing people in this country.
SIMON: I remember when you helped oversee drug policy. What worries you more, something like heroin or abuse of legal prescription drugs?
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, we've seen a decrease in the last few years on opioids, the pills. And I think that was the - President Obama made that a signature effort early on in his administration. It was something that was really relatively unknown.
But we've seen great cooperation from law enforcement and from health and others about the education and the reduction. This appetite for heroin and particularly heroin that has been laced with fentanyl is incredibly dangerous. Prevention, of course, would be a key.
SIMON: In the minute we have left, as you noted, migration to the U.S. over the southern border is lower than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but the number of families arriving is up. Arizona's doubled over the last year. What should be done?
KERLIKOWSKE: Well, we wanted to see an increase in immigration judges. And I applaud the administration for doing that because you shouldn't wait three to five years to get your hearing. It should be expedited, a decision is made. And remember; most people that apply for asylum actually do not meet the threshold to enter the United States and stay in the United States.
SIMON: Gil Kerlikowske, former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, thanks so much for being with us.
KERLIKOWSKE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.