Two prominent opponents of illegal immigration with connections to far-right groups have landed high-level advisory jobs at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), prompting heavy criticism from immigrant rights supporters.
Jon Feere, formerly a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), has been hired as a special adviser to Thomas D. Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to CNN.
And the former executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), Julie Kirchner, was hired as an adviser to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezIllinois Democrats propose new 'maximized' congressional map Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic primary fight shifts to South Carolina, Nevada MORE (D-Ill.), a longtime supporter of immigration reform, said the moves show the Trump administration's anti-immigrant slant.
"Opponents of legal immigration are front and center in the Trump anti-immigration Dream Team of Attorney General Sessions, and Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon in the White House," Gutierrez said in an email.
Both FAIR and CIS are listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-immigrant hate groups.
“These groups have spent 20 years looking for ways that they could hurt immigrants and now they've been given the keys to the kingdom," Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America's Voice, told CNN.
ICE and the CBP are the top two immigration law enforcement agencies, tasked with border control and interior enforcement.
The increased influence granted to prominent immigration reductionists has stoked the fears of pro-immigrant activists, who see it as a sign that the Trump administration is pursuing a policy of racially motivated mass deportation.
"The advocates for eliminating legal immigration have always been a vocal minority within the Republican Party, but now nativists are in charge of civil rights, law-enforcement, national policy and immigration," Gutierrez said.
Groups such as CIS and FAIR have traditionally been fringe voices in the immigration debate, even among conservatives. They are part of a network of organizations founded by John Tanton, a Michigan ophthalmologist who's espoused opposition to immigration on the grounds of population reduction and protection of an ethnic white majority.
"People who shill for groups that are intertwined with eugenicists, population control environmentalists, and who have alt-right extremists on staff, and whose core beliefs about humanity spit in the face of basic conservative principles should have no place in a Republican administration," said Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a conservative advocacy organization.
Lopez pointed out that Feere and Kirchner were given advisory roles, "which means someone is well aware they cannot survive the vetting process that comes from a position requiring Senate confirmation."
In their previous roles, Feere and Kirchner both campaigned against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children to obtain work permits and deferred them from potential deportation action.
Although Trump promised to end DACA while on the campaign trail, he softened his tone somewhat after his election, and the program remains part of DHS policy.
DACA recipients are especially vulnerable to government action because they had to submit personal information and admission of their illegal status to the government in order to apply to the program.
DHS Secretary John Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) last week that ICE was not currently using DACA application information to pursue recipients, but added that policy could change. Kelly promised CHC members he would let them know before enacting such a change.
The upcoming budget battle has also become an important factor in the debate over Increased immigration enforcement, as lawmakers weigh the popularity of measures demanded by groups like CIS and FAIR.
Democrats will oppose Trump's request for a $2.6 billion increase in the DHS budget, and are hopeful that what they consider heavy-handed immigration enforcement will convince enough Republicans to follow suit.
"They are overplaying their hand because mass deportation, the border wall, and spending billions to break up families all remain immensely unpopular, even among Republican voters," Gutierrez said. "But I won’t be surprised if Trump and his nativist Dream Team push the anti-immigration agenda all the way towards a government shut-down."