Seven key players for Trump on immigration


President Trump is relying on a host of officials to carry out hard-line immigration policies that include building a permanent wall on the Mexican border. 

The officials include both long-time proponents of reduced immigration who in Trump see an opportunity to push forward policies that were set aside by previous administrations, and decorated national security professionals.

Here are seven key officials to watch.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions 

As Trump’s attorney general, Sessions has pivoted the Justice Department toward a heavy focus on immigration enforcement.  

He’s led the charge to build a border wall, fought against “sanctuary cities” —municipalities who refuse full cooperation with the feds on immigration enforcement — and pushed to hire new immigration judges to speed up the lag in deportations. 

Earlier this month, Sessions talked to Border Patrol agents at the Mexican border about the degree of change he expects to bring to the Justice Department.

“This is a new era. This the Trump era,” Sessions said.

During his 20-year Senate career, Session was the loudest voice in the chamber against any form of amnesty for undocumented immigrants. He also argued in favor of reducing legal immigration as a means to raise wages for Americans.

From early on in the 2016 campaign, it became clear Trump and Sessions saw eye-to-eye on immigration.

“I told Donald Trump, this isn’t a campaign, this a movement,” Sessions said at a rally where he became the first sitting senator to endorse Trump. 

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly

Along with Sessions, Kelly has taken the role as the public face of Trump’s immigration agenda.

The former four-star Marine general has been tasked with implementing the strict interpretation of immigration law laid out by Trump’s executive orders on immigration.

In February, Kelly released two implementation memos, which served the dual purpose of increasing employee agency morale and translating Trump’s executive orders into practical directives.

Those directives freed agents to aggressively enforce immigration laws.

Kelly has taken the lead on defending the administration’s immigration actions on Capitol Hill, testifying before committees in the House and Senate, as well as holding meetings with members of both parties. 

One blowup with Democrats came in February, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Thomas Homan at the last minute canceled a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).

Kelly then met personally with the CHC in April, where he fielded a barrage of questions over the administration’s immigration enforcement measures. 

“I’ll give him credit, as some of my colleagues might, for coming to the CHC and answering our questions,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said.

Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) said the meeting brought “the biggest progress we’ve made with him,” but questioned Kelly’s control of DHS.

“He was vehemently defending his department, but I don’t think he realizes what’s going on in the streets of America,” Cardenas said.

Chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon

The former Breitbart executive is among the administration’s most vocal advocates of reduced legal immigration, views he staked out long before joining the Trump campaign. 

In a 2016 radio conversation, Bannon questioned then-Trump campaign advisor Stephen Miller on whether Trump would stand up to “oligarchs” on the issue.

“Don’t we have a problem — we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kinda overwhelmed the country,” Bannon said. 

Bannon joined Trump’s campaign a few weeks after that conversation with Miller, ultimately joining him at the White House.

While Bannon’s star dimmed after his removal from the National Security Council earlier this month, his ideological imprint is still apparent in much of Trump’s agenda, particularly on immigration and trade. 

“His advocacy for a real economic nationalism will remain central to the administration’s policy vision,” wrote Robert Wasinger, who ran the Trump campaign’s Senate and gubernatorial outreach, in an op-ed Wednesday. 

Jon Feere, advisor to ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan, and Julie Kirchner, advisor to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan

Feere and Kirchner were until recently legal analysts at two of the most prominent immigration reductionist advocacy groups, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Now they hold key advisory positions at the top of the two largest law enforcement agencies in the nation.

Feere and Kirchner have both testified before Congress and written extensively in favor of reduced immigration.

While at CIS, Feere held a more public profile, with a healthy social media presence. Kirchner, meanwhile took on a more academic profile, according to Dan Stein, the president of FAIR.

“[Kirchner] is a scrupulous top notch attorney who believes in the rule of law,” he said. “As a former prosecutor she sees the rule of law as the cornerstone of citizenship.”

Feere and Kirchner’s appointments roiled Democrats and immigration activists.

“Those are groups who traffic in anti-immigrant policies and proposals,” said Aguilar. “It would be concerning if those are the senior advisors on policy.”

White House political adviser Stephen Miller

Miller is a former Senate staffer who played a key role in defeating comprehensive immigration reform in 2014.

“He’s a hard driving no-nonsense guy who believes strongly in the basic principles of the immigration policy of Jeff Sessions,” Stein said. “We know him as a true believer.”

Miller took a role early on in the Trump campaign as senior policy adviser, and is a close ally of Bannon and Sessions, his former boss. 

“When it comes to issues and messaging and policy, there isn’t anybody else that I’ve known that would be as valuable to a presidential campaign as he,” Sessions told Politico in June of 2016. “Maybe other than Karl Rove.”

Miller’s hard-charging approach generated some criticism in February, when he went on the talk show circuit to defend Trump’s travel ban.

“Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

DHS Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke

As DHS’s chief operating officer, Duke is tasked with running the 240,000-strong agency and its work on immigration and national security. 

Easily the least controversial appointment on Trump’s immigration team, Duke received praise from Democrats and Republicans alike during her Senate confirmation hearing. 

“Elaine Duke has served successfully under Democratic and Republican administrations and I believe will be in a position to provide a much-needed perspective to the Department of Homeland Security,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  

In her nearly-30 year public career, Duke rose to under secretary of management for DHS, tasked with managing the agency’s budget. She held that position until 2010.

Tags Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Jeff Sessions John Kelly Pete Aguilar Tony Cardenas
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