By Brad Jones
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—A trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona was all it took for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to change his mind on the need for a border wall pushed by his political rival former President Donald Trump.
“I went down to the border feeling that Trump has made a mistake on the wall, but I feel like people need to be able to recalibrate their worldview when they’re confronted with evidence,” he told a crowd of more than 300 Aug. 3 at the premiere of his documentary, Midnight at the Border.
When asked by a news reporter at a press conference that followed the premiere at the Saban Theatre, if rumors that a Trump-Kennedy presidential ticket in 2024 were true, Mr. Kennedy ruled out the possibility of the unlikely Republican-Democrat pairing.
“In my experience, a lot of the stuff that you read in the mainstream news and the corporate news is what I would call conspiracy theories,” he said.
His response was met by laughter and applause.
“No, I will not be Donald Trump’s vice president,” he said.
The ‘Yuma Gap’
The 19-minute video documents Mr. Kennedy’s after-midnight visit on June 6 to an infamous gap in the border wall near Yuma, Arizona known as the ‘Yuma Gap’ where the California, Arizona, and U.S.–Mexico borders meet along the Colorado River.
Of the hundreds who crossed the border illegally that night and were apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol, many were not from Latin American countries as Mr. Kennedy expected, he said, but from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia.
“Only two families said they were claiming political persecution. The rest just told us openly they were coming here to make money, coming here for a better life. So, they didn’t even have that claim. And those immigrants shouldn’t be allowed into the country. We should stop that at the border,” he said.
In the film, Mr. Kennedy interviews American authorities on the border crisis and illegal migrants, most of whom were not claiming asylum, the official reason and legal premise for them to remain in the country.
“What we should be doing and what we used to do is we would process them at the border, and only 15 percent of them were adjudicated as legitimate. The other 85 percent were adjudicated as specious,” he said. “And, under normal conditions, the specious claimants are not allowed into this country. They’re turned away. If we were doing that today, the entire business model of the cartels would collapse.”
With U.S.-Mexican relations at a low, Mr. Kennedy said one of his priorities if elected president would be to reestablish a better relationship with Mexico and other countries south of the border to stem the flow of immigration.
“This trail of immigrants is not good for them,” he said. “It’s destabilizing.”
The Biden administration’s current border policy isn’t serving the best interests of the American people nor those of Democrats or Republicans, nor migrants or “our neighbors to the south,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The crisis should not be a partisan issue and to solve it, the best ideas of both political parties should be put on the table, he said.
“We have a policy now that is not serving anybody’s interest,” he said. “Everybody is getting hurt by this policy.”
While the wall has been a divisive issue, it shouldn’t be, he indicated.
“I was against Trump’s wall. I thought it was a crazy idea. To me, it was a big mistake,” he said.
But, despite his sister Rory Kennedy’s award-winning 2010 documentary “The Fence,” “showing all the reasons we shouldn’t build it,” he now suggests compromise is needed.
“I don’t think we do need a wall as we were told that had 2,200 miles between Brownsville and San Diego,” he said. “But, we need something.”
Mr. Kennedy also suggested more cameras and drone surveillance is needed along the border.
“Midnight at the Border” reveals how the cost of an unsecured border is paid in illicit drug overdoses and the human trafficking of migrant women and children.
Residents of U.S. border towns told Mr. Kennedy and his film crew they wouldn’t let their children play outside “because they were scared of these strangers … running across the yard fleeing from the Border Patrol, which is a very common occurrence,” Mr. Kennedy said.
The film notes that in 2022 the federal Drug Enforcement Agency seized about $379 million in doses of fentanyl.
Last year alone, 109,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses, 67 percent from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not only does the border crisis put people’s lives at risk crossing rivers and deserts, but it puts them and their life savings at the mercy of cartels.
“They get extorted. They get raped. They get robbed,” Mr. Kennedy said.
One scene in the film describes an infamous “rape tree” where Mexican smugglers, known as “coyotes,” have sexually assaulted women and children as young as 12 and then force their female victims to take “morning after” abortion pills.
Illegal immigration also reduces wages for every working American, Mr. Kennedy said at the press conference.
“We’re creating this understory of exploitable poor,” he said. “These people are being paid by unscrupulous employers $5 or $6 an hour, a half of their lives here. And there’s no way they can change that. They have no leverage and no bargaining power.”
These employers use the threat of exposing the immigration status of migrants to protect their own interests over those of the country, Mr. Kennedy said.
“If you really wanted to end the border crisis … the most obvious thing to do would be to prosecute people who hire illegal aliens—the businesses,” he said. “I’m not saying that this is what we need to do right away, but I’m just pointing to the obvious.”
When President Ronald Reagan came into office we had a million illegal immigrants in this country, it wasn’t a big border crisis because about 30 percent of the workers in this country belonged to labor unions which helped to keep illegal immigrants from being hired, Mr. Kennedy said.
Now, about 10 percent of the American labor force is unionized and illegal immigrants who show up on job sites are not reported, he said.
“I am a traditional Kennedy Democrat. I think human dignity and particularly dignity of the workers and the American middle class are the foundation stones not only of our economy, but of American democracy,” he said.