How Stephen Miller Manipulates Donald Trump to Further His Immigration Obsession – The New Yorker

Posted By on February 25, 2020

In April, Miller initiated a purge of D.H.S. It began with the firing of Nielsen, then continued with the ouster of Vitiello, Cissna, the head of Customs and Border Protection, and the departments top lawyer. Restrictionist groups like the Center for Immigration Studies protested Cissnas departure. Chuck Grassley, who had worked with Cissna on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that the President was pulling the rug out from the very people that are trying to help him accomplish his goal. But with Nielsen and the other officials gone, Miller was able to move loyalists into the top positions. One of them was Matthew Albence, the new head of ICE, who, in congressional testimony from 2018, compared family-detention facilities to summer camp. A senior D.H.S. official said, Now there are no breaks in the chain of command.

Disgruntled department veterans saw many of Millers actions as policy miscues and legal errors, but they were more likely signs of Millers success. So was the political deadlock on immigration, which the White House was deliberately exacerbating. Michael Chertoff, who led D.H.S. under GeorgeW. Bush, told me, The only two arguments you hear now are Dont enforce the law at all, or Be draconian. Miller has exploited calls by left-wing Democrats to abolish ICE and to decriminalize border crossings. On the whole, public outrage has dissipated, and the federal courts, which are increasingly populated by Trump appointees, are starting to uphold the Administrations policies. The U.S. is resettling the fewest number of refugees in its history; there are more than fifty-five thousand asylum seekers stuck in Mexico under a policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols; and the Central American asylum dealsknown as safe third-country agreementsare expanding. A former senior official told me, Without Miller, Nielsen would still be secretary. There would be no safe third-country agreements, no M.P.P. He pushed and pushed. He simply works harder than everyone else.

Last October, the Presidents fourth head of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, who filled the position left by Nielsen, announced his resignation, six months into the job. What I dont have control over is the tone, the message, the public face and approach of the department in an increasingly polarized time, he told the Washington Post. White House officials initially distrusted McAleenan, who was a career official and had served during the Obama Administration. Yet the President soon came to depend on McAleenans experience: after he took charge of the department, the number of immigrants apprehended at the southern border dropped by close to sixty per cent. He was also the lead negotiator of the Central American asylum deals. When McAleenan tendered his resignation, Miller initially refused to accept it.

In late fall, as Trumps impeachment hearings began, Miller tried to limit his own public exposure. He was getting a little too much steady attention, so he knew he had to hang back, a top Administration official told me. Miller has survived the upheavals in Trumps inner circle by representing himself as a member of the supporting cast. This strategy was reinforced by the demise of Steve Bannon, who, a few months before being fired, in August, 2017, appeared on the cover of Time, next to the headline The Great Manipulator. Sessions was forced out in November, 2018, after having recused himself from the Russia probe. Trump continued to mock him, often in front of Miller. According to someone who witnessed the exchanges, Miller never spoke up to defend his mentor. He was part of the family now, a White House official told me.

By the end of November, Miller was back in the news, though not by choice. The Southern Poverty Law Center acquired and published hundreds of e-mails that Miller had exchanged, between 2015 and 2016, with editors at Breitbart. They included links to articles on the white-supremacist Web site VDare, as well as an enthusiastic reference to The Camp of Saints, a racist French novel about the ravages of immigration. In one e-mail, Miller approvingly forwarded an article arguing that the U.S. should deport immigrants on trains to scare out the people who want to undo our country. In Congress, there were calls for his resignation, but only from Democrats.

The e-mail scandal barely registered at the White House, where Miller faced a greater challenge. At Trumps behest, Jared Kushnerwho was already responsible for negotiating peace in the Middle East, overhauling international trade agreements, and leading the Presidents relection campaignhas added immigration to his portfolio. Stephen understands that Kushner is the real power, a former White House official said. He would never cross Kushner.

When Kushner came in to work on this, he told people that they were too close to the issue, that he had the distance from it that was needed, a senior Republican aide told me. A number of people Kushner consulted on the Hill recommended that he start by trying smaller deals, such as one on DACA. Im doing this big or Im not doing it at all, he responded. In May, from a dais in the White House Rose Garden, Trump announced the broad contours of Kushners merit-based immigration plan, in which applicants would be evaluated based not on family ties, as in the current system, but on a combination of factors, including language skills, education, and employment prospects. (Sitting in the front row was Lindsey Graham, who was now one of Trumps strongest allies.) In 2013, when Miller was first engaged in immigration policy, he and Sessions talked about moving to a merit-based system, and it was laughed about, one of the former Republican aides told me. It wasnt just a fringe position. It was a politically impossible position. Now the proposal represents the White Houses moderate pitch, though it is still unlikely to get through Congress.

A six-hundred-page bill that details Kushners plan has been circulating in Washington. It would not directly lower the number of legal immigrants allowed into the country each year, but, so far, Miller has coperated with Kushner, writing the parts of it that address asylum and family detention. Jared is the most powerful White House adviser, but hes very busy, a person who has worked closely with both Miller and Kushner told me. Miller is focussed on one thing. He and Kushner make situational alliances. They both think the President needs the other, and they each believe in the others absolute loyalty to Trump. In all my time around them, I have never heard either one of them say a negative word about the other, and thats not true of anyone else.

Recently, the number of migrants intercepted at the border has dropped significantlyfrom a hundred and forty-four thousand, in May, 2019, to thirty-six thousand, last month. Asylum seekers stuck in Mexico have given up on reaching the U.S. Americas legal and moral standing may not survive the Administrations immigration policies, but Trump has succeeded in realizing one of his most infamous tweets: Our country is full.

With the border virtually sealed, Miller is turning his attention inward. D.H.S. has begun sending armed agents from Border Patrol SWAT teams to New York, Chicago, and other so-called sanctuary cities, where local law enforcement has limited its coperation with ICE. Theres no one left at D.H.S. to say No to Miller anymore, a senior department official told me. Another official was present at a meeting in which Miller advocated allowing ICE officers to pull children out of school.

This summer, months before the election, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Administration can cancel DACA. Everythingeverything!hinges on that decision, a former senior D.H.S. official told me. If the Supreme Court ends DACA, then Miller will be in ecstasy. Hell finally have the leverage over the Democratic Congress that hes been dying to have this entire time. Hell say, Well, youre all worried were going to deport them. What will you agree to? The official continued, Itll be the summer of a huge campaign, and Miller will be in his glory.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

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How Stephen Miller Manipulates Donald Trump to Further His Immigration Obsession - The New Yorker

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