While Donald Trump was president, reporters published shocking revelations about his administration’s conduct of U.S. immigration policy. It turns out reporters missed a few items. Former Cabinet officials and others have revealed immigration policy during the Trump administration was intended to be much harsher, including placing a quarter-million soldiers on the U.S.-Mexico border, enacting crueler measures to separate families and targeting children for deportation at American schools.
Stephen Miller’s Plan To Send ICE Agents To Identify Children To Deport At U.S. Schools: In a new book describing her years during the Trump administration, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revealed a plan by Stephen Miller to identify children at school for deportation under the pretext of checking for gang members. “There was also the overreach and bad ideas we stopped from occurring,” writes DeVos. “Stephen Miller, President Trump’s policy guru, summoned Nate and Ebony from my team to the White House for a discussion. After failing to properly clear them through White House security, Miller’s aides took them to a nearby restaurant (Cosi, for those who know the area) to have their meeting.
“Over the din of patrons slurping lattes and crunching salads, Miller’s men described a plan to put U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents into schools under the pretext of identifying MS-13 gang members. The plan was, when agents checked students’ citizenship status for the alleged purpose of identifying gang ties, they could identify undocumented students and deport them. Not only was the prospect of this chilling, but it was also patently illegal. Nate and Ebony turned them down cold. But that didn’t stop Stephen Miller from subsequently calling me to get my thoughts on the idea. They were the same as Nate and Ebony’s: no. Just no.” (Emphasis in the original.)
DeVos is correct to characterize the plan as “chilling.” Once word spread that federal agents planned to check immigration status at schools, many children, not only undocumented students but native-born children with undocumented parents or siblings, likely would have stopped attending school and foregone their education. Do not be surprised if such a policy reemerges in some form in the future.
Stephen Miller’s Plan To Place The Equivalent Of Half The U.S. Army At The Southern Border: In FY 2020, the U.S. Army had approximately 480,000 soldiers, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. According to former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Stephen Miller wanted to put more than half of the U.S. Army (or its equivalent) on the U.S.-Mexico border—and had taken steps to make it happen.
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“We’re in a meeting, waiting for the president to come out,” Esper told Norah O’Donnell during an interview on 60 Minutes. “We’re standing around the Resolute Desk. And he’s behind me. And this voice just starts talking about caravans are coming. And, ‘We need to get troops to the border.’ And, ‘We need a quarter-million troops.’ And I think he’s joking. And then I turn around and I look at him and these—and these deadpan eyes. Clearly, he is not joking.
“He repeats, ‘No, we need a quarter-million troops,’” Esper said. “And I just turn squarely around to him, face him, and say, ‘I don’t have a quarter-million troops to send on some ridiculous mission to the border.’”
Esper asked his chief of staff and General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to make sure Miller had not already set a plan in motion. “Milley comes back days later and the door opens up and he’s waving a document that’s in hand. And he says something like, ‘secretary, you’re not gonna believe this.’ And that’s when he explains to me that, yes, they were working. That we had developed a plan, initial concept of how this might happen. And I was just flabbergasted that, not only was the idea proposed, but that people—people in my department were working on it.”
“I gave General Milley specific instruction to tell NORTHCOM, Northern Command, to stop working on it, to cease and desist. And that if anybody had any questions, you tell them they should call me direct. I never got a phone call,” said Esper. “It was dead and it died, as it should.”
There is no need to place troops on the U.S. border. The United States could reduce the number of people who enter the country unlawfully by admitting more temporary workers. National Foundation for American Policy research found admitting more Mexican farmworkers via the Bracero program reduced illegal entry (apprehensions) at the border by 95% between 1953 and 1959. Such a reduction in illegal immigration would be accomplished without cost to taxpayers and would not weaken or interfere with other national defense priorities.
Efforts To Punish Parents And Children At The Border: “The U.S. government separated more than 3,000 children from their parents along the Mexican border in May and June 2018, the peak of President Donald Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy to prosecute adults for the misdemeanor offense of crossing the border illegally,” according to Maria Sacchetti of the Washington Post. “DHS officials say more than 5,500 children were separated in all.”
“On May 10, 2018, Matthew Albence, then a high-ranking official at ICE, wrote in a memo to other officials at the agency that he was worried that parents would be returned to their children in Border Patrol stations too quickly after going to criminal court,” writes Sacchetti, on June 8, 2022, citing emails that became available to attorneys for migrants who were separated from their children by the policy. “Albence said CBP [Customs and Border Protection] should work with ICE to prevent this from happening,’ such as by taking the children themselves to ORR (Office of Refugee Resettlement] ‘at an accelerated pace’ or bringing the adults directly to ICE from criminal court, instead of returning them to their children.”
The Trump administration ended its family-separation at the border in June 2018 after a public outcry that tearing children away from their parents was cruel. The revelations from previously undisclosed emails show Trump officials thought the policy was not cruel enough.
These three reports remind us that the Trump administration’s immigration policies were often cruel and unusual. The revelations indicate if the same individuals get a second chance, the policies revealed since Donald Trump left office may return along with new and likely harsher immigration policies.