When President Trump announced his travel ban a week into his presidency, it was up to the Department of Homeland Security to implement it immediately. The result was chaos at our nation’s airports.
When Trump’s Justice Department announced a “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, it was again up to DHS to make it workable. The result was the controversial — and since rescinded — separation of families.
Now Trump is trying to quickly implement another controversial immigration plan, by launching Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids to quickly deport undocumented families, starting Sunday.
And the head of DHS appears understandably wary.
The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, who has been breaking news like crazy when it comes to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border, reported Friday that the raids would begin this weekend. The scale is large, with as many as 2,000 families targeted in 10 major U.S. cities.
But this time, Trump’s acting Homeland Security secretary is apparently conveying that he’s not on board with the plan for the “family op.” Kevin McAleenan, who has crafted a solid bipartisan reputation since taking over for Kirstjen Nielsen, has advised against such a quick implementation.
Here are few key passages from Miroff’s latest story:
Acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan has been urging ICE, an agency within his department, to conduct a narrower, more targeted operation that would seek to detain a group of about 150 families that were provided with attorneys but dropped out of the legal process and absconded.
McAleenan has warned that an indiscriminate operation to arrest migrants in their homes and at work sites risks separating children from their parents in cases where the children are at day care, summer camp or friend’s houses. He also has maintained that ICE should not devote major resources to carrying out a mass interior sweep while telling lawmakers it needs emergency funding to address the crisis at the U.S. border.
The White House has been in direct communication with acting ICE director Mark Morgan and other ICE officials, circumventing McAleenan, three officials said.
McAleenan has said that the crisis at the border — where more than 144,000 were taken into custody last month — remains the most urgent problem for DHS. Following Trump’s threats to slap tariffs on Mexico, McAleenan led negotiations with Mexican officials that resulted in commitments to dramatically toughen enforcement and begin work on a regional asylum overhaul that would allow the United States to send asylum seekers back to Central America.
Officials say McAleenan does not oppose ICE interior enforcement against families with deportation orders, but he wants a more limited approach that averts a repeat of “zero tolerance.”
The message from McAleenan seems rather simple: This risks distracting from some very real progress that we’re making and also diverts resources to a less pressing issue. It’s an entirely logical stance. The situation on the southern border, after all, has reached crisis levels, according to Trump and his administration. McAleenan has argued the recently struck deal to get Mexico to halt the flow of migrants to the border will be a far more effective way to get the border surge under control. This operation deals with a separate but related issue of undocumented immigrants already within the country’s interior.
The lessons of the travel ban and “zero tolerance” loom large. The former suffered from the haste of its implementation, while the latter suffered from a perceived lack of humanity. The new operation risks problems on both fronts.
It seeks to round up families who have already received deportation orders, which would seem like an easier political sell. Are Democrats and other Trump opponents really going to say the administration can’t deport people who are due for deportation?
But the speed of the operation’s implementation harks back to the travel ban, and the possibility of unhelpful images looms large. Children behind chain-link fences without their parents was one thing. What happens when ICE officials are recorded showing up to deport a family — or, as McAleenan reportedly warned, it results in families being separated yet again? The potential pitfalls of such a large and fast operation are numerous.
Like McAleenan, Nielsen was occasionally reported to have expressed reservations about some of Trump’s initiatives, including the family separation policy. Despite that, the program is likely to be prominent when it comes to history’s evaluation of her tenure. Even John Kelly, Nielsen’s predecessor as DHS secretary who went on to become White House chief of staff, has sought distance from some of Trump’s immigration policies.
McAleenan has stepped into the void and, by the accounts of even Democrats, has been a breath of fresh air. The fact that he apparently wants no part of this new approach seems telling.