President Trump said Friday that he is planning to install former immigration enforcement chief and Fox News analyst Tom Homan as a “border czar” at the White House, making him the latest hard-liner to land a senior Homeland Security role after praising the president on cable television.
“He’ll be a border czar,” Trump told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” via telephone Friday morning. “He’ll be reporting directly to me. He’ll probably be working out of the White House but spending a lot of time at the border. . . . He’s going to be very much involved with the border.”
The plan to appoint Homan had not been finalized and remained under discussion, but Trump announced it anyway, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the president’s behavior.
Homan ran U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as acting director during the first 18 months of the Trump administration, but he retired in frustration when the White House failed to move his nomination toward Senate confirmation.
Homan then became a Fox News analyst on immigration and border issues, where he was known for his blunt speaking style and enthusiasm for the president’s attempts to impose harsher border measures.
The former police officer and Border Patrol agent was known at ICE for intense devotion and an emotional style, especially when pushing back at allegations that ICE agents acted too aggressively and against calls for the agency to be eliminated. Homan frequently applauded Trump for “taking the shackles” off ICE by giving agents latitude to make a broader range of immigration arrests in the U.S. interior.
Homan did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Left unclear in the president’s surprise announcement was an explanation of what duties Homan will assume, and how he will work with Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the agency tasked with securing the border. The DHS did not respond to requests for comment.
Making Homan a “czar” could diminish McAleenan’s role. McAleenan played a central part in securing a deal last week that requires the Mexican government to dramatically increase its efforts to stop U.S.-bound migrants as they travel northward.
Vice President Pence and other U.S. officials told the Mexican government during those talks that immigration is the most important issue of Trump’s presidency. Trump has been repeatedly frustrated by his inability to secure funding for a barrier along the border with Mexico and by the unchecked rise in the number of migrants being taken into custody by U.S. agents.
U.S. authorities detained more than 144,000 border-crossers last month, as arrests reached the highest level in 13 years. Several of the Trump administration’s policies aimed at slowing migration have been blocked in federal court or have not succeeded.
Trump and his close aides also have been pushing for tougher approaches to immigration, and top officials have called for an overarching post in the White House to help coordinate efforts across agencies.
Before she was ousted in April from her position as DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen had advocated for a senior White House figure who could spearhead the administration’s response to the crisis at the southern border. Such a job was envisioned as helping to increase communication and collaboration between the Departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.
Those who worked with Homan, who is known more as a hard-charging beat cop than an interagency traffic manager, said he does not seem to be a natural fit for such an organizational role. He has told former colleagues that he did not wish to rejoin government and preferred to stay retired.
But since the shake-up at the DHS, the president has been filling the department’s senior ranks with former officials who appear frequently on television praising his border policies.
Mark Morgan, a former FBI and Border Patrol official, was named acting director of ICE after a number of tough-talking television appearances. And on Monday, Ken Cuccinelli II, the conservative activist and former attorney general of Virginia who also became a border pundit, took over as the interim head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Asked by the Fox hosts whether he will nominate McAleenan to be permanent DHS secretary, Trump said McAleenan was “doing a nice job” but “we’re going to see.”
“I’ve got to get used to him,” Trump said. “Because it’s very important to me, the border. We need strong people at the border, and if people aren’t strong, they’re not going to do a good job.”
Under Trump, the focus of the DHS secretary role has shifted from counterterrorism to immigration enforcement, but the job still includes oversight of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Secret Service and other non-immigration-related agencies.
Just before she was ousted from the DHS, Nielsen irritated Trump by traveling to Europe for counterterrorism meetings; he insisted that the migrant crisis required her at the U.S.-Mexico border.
During meetings at the White House with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday, Trump chided McAleenan on the same basis.
“Why aren’t you on the Mexican border today?” Trump asked him during a portion of the bilateral meeting open to the media. “What are you doing here with Poland?”
“Well, we need to partner with our friends in Europe as well, Mr. President,” McAleenan said.
McAleenan has repeatedly warned that the migrant crisis has pushed U.S. agents and infrastructure beyond “the breaking point,” leading to dangerous overcrowding of Border Patrol holding cells with families and children, many of them ill.
He has called for a “whole of government” response, and this week he urged lawmakers to approve the White House’s $4.5 billion request for supplemental funding. At least $3 billion of that would pay for the care of the growing number of underage migrants who arrive without parents and often spend months in U.S. shelters while the government identifies and screens relatives who can assume custody.
Some of those children will be housed at military bases on an emergency basis, and U.S. soldiers are also providing support to free up more Border Patrol agents for front-line duty.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.