Excerpted transcript from Time/Trump Interview, 2019.
TIME: I want to talk about some of the big themes of your campaign. I’ve been to a lot of your rallies, here are signs that say “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” At the current rate, it’s very unlikely that your wall will be built by the time Election Day comes around.
TRUMP: No, we’ll have — we’ll have, over 400, We’re building the wall right now. People don’t understand. We are building the wall right now. It is under major construction.
TIME: There’s 654 miles, you have 61 miles—
TRUMP: Well, there’s 550 miles. 550 is max.
TIME: —of fencing and barriers—
TRUMP: And we will have over 450 miles built by the end of next year. We’re also renovating tremendous amounts of wall. We’re renovating and fixing. We’re putting — areas that didn’t have wall, we’re putting temporary walls in. We’re doing a great job, and the job we did with Mexico, nobody could even believe.
TIME: Why are the numbers of people coming across now at a 13-year high then?
TRUMP: Because they’re trying to come in because the economy is so good. We have 3.5% unemployment. The economy is — you could make the case it’s never been stronger than it is now, and the people are trying to come up for the economy. They’re not coming up for asylum. They’re coming up for money.
TIME: Either way, I mean you can’t expect us — as a policy matter to make our economy bad to stop them from coming.
TRUMP: No, no, I’m not going to make it bad. I’m just saying it wasn’t good. The economy wasn’t very good, and it was weak under President Obama. Now it’s the strongest economy we’ve probably ever had.
TIME: So how do you deliver on the promise?
TRUMP: Even look at the First Quarter, we’re at 3.2%. Nobody expected that. They thought it would be one — you know, the First Quarter is always very low. We’re at 3.2%. The economy is so strong that people are coming up. Now what I did with Mexico is, Mexico — I don’t know if you’ve seen, but the numbers are way down since they started last week, and they haven’t even — they’re putting their — they’re starting to move the 6,000 soldiers in tomorrow.
And I think they’re working very hard.
[President asks to go off-the-record]
TIME: Would you consider reinstating the family separation policy?
TRUMP: So let me tell you about that. It’s very interesting. President Obama had separation. I’m the one that brought it together. I was the one, and what that did is it made more people come up because I didn’t like separation any more than you did.
But if you look at those cells, where they were showing all these cells, they looked like jail cells or cyclone fence — but they look like jail cells. They were built in 2014 by Obama. I think you people had one of those pictures actually. You said look at these cells. It turned out they were built by Obama. They were built by people that I know very well. People that want to come into the Administration. But if you look at the separation policy, I had that policy, and then I’m the one that put the families back together. When you put the families back together, you have more families come up. It’s a very simple …
TIME: On your watch, sir —
TRUMP: No, but you understand what I’m saying.
TIME: Yeah, there were —
TRUMP: I inherited separation.
TIME: On your watch, there were families whose parents were separated from the children. They were deported. The children were left behind. And the agencies —
TRUMP: Well, they had that under Obama’s watch, too.
TIME: And the agencies didn’t keep good records, and have had a hard time reuniting —
TRUMP: Many of those records were Obama records, and they had separation and they had the exact same thing during the Obama years. The difference is because our economy is so strong, more people came up. Plus, they learned how weak our laws are. Now the laws, hopefully, are going to be changed. But they learned how weak the laws are. But you know, if Mexico does the job, they have very strong policy; they have very strong immigration policy. If Mexico does the job, there should be very few people coming up through Mexico. And Mexico can do the job. And I believe they will do the job, but if they don’t do the job, we’re going to put tariffs on, and they understand that, and the tariffs are very significant.
TIME: What other measures are you considering if the numbers continue to grow?
TRUMP: I don’t think they will continue to grow. I think they’re starting to go down now.
TIME: Do you know how many [immigrant] kids were separated from their parents under your — Administration. Do you have a number?
TRUMP: Well, they have lists. They have very accurate lists actually. But you have to understand, they were separated with President Obama. They were separated with President Bush. I didn’t change the policy, and the policy had been changed, it was — I’m the one that ended separation. Just so we understand. And when we ended separation, and I was not surprised to see this, more families came up because now they’re not going to be separated.
TIME: So would you consider reinstating [the policy]?
TRUMP: I don’t know, I don’t like it, I don’t like the concept of separation. I’d rather keep them from coming up, it would be a lot easier because I don’t like it. But I’m — it’s crazy. I got such a bad rap on that. I inherited separation.
TIME: But it was the enforcement —
TRUMP: You do know this, right Sarah?
SANDERS: Yes, sir.
TRUMP: These were the laws, President Bush had them, President Obama had them. I had them. And when I had them, everybody went wild about separation, nobody talked about separation before. But Obama, President Obama is the one that built the jail cells, as they called them, and they said “Look at these cells, isn’t this terrible?” I said, wait a minute — and we didn’t know that, and then they stepped forward — those pictures were perhaps in your magazine in 2014. That was long before I became President.
All of those cells were built in 2014, and before. And they made it sound like I did it. Look, just so we understand, separation has been there for a long time. When I got there, I ended separation. I knew what would happen. More people would come up, but I didn’t like the concept of separation. It was bad. Now what we’re doing, if this works with Mexico, there will be a trem—. Look, they’re putting 6,000 soldiers on their southern border. That’s a game-changer.
We are now bringing people back into Mexico.
President asks to go off-the-record