Trump Aides Plan Fresh Immigration Crackdowns Before Midterms

Top aides to President Donald Trump are planning additional crackdowns on immigration before the November midterms, despite a growing backlash over the administration’s move to separate migrant children from parents at the border.

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and a team of officials from the Justice Department, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget have been quietly meeting for months to find ways to use executive authority and under-the-radar rule changes to strengthen hard-line U.S. immigration policies, according to interviews with half a dozen current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House.

The goal for Miller and his team is to arm Trump with enough data and statistics by early September to show voters that he fulfilled his immigration promises — even without a physical border wall or any other congressional measure, said one Republican close to the White House.

Among the fresh ideas being circulated: tightening rules on student visas and exchange programs; limiting visas for temporary agricultural workers; making it harder for legal immigrants who have applied for any welfare programs to obtain residency; and collecting biometric data from visitors from certain countries.

Details of the ideas are still being worked out, said one White House official.

In one of the most closely watched plans under discussion, the Department of Homeland Security has proposed a new rule that former Obama administration officials and immigration advocates worry could be used as an end run around a 1997 court settlement that limits the length of time migrant children can be kept in government custody. Putting a formal government rule in place, lawyers and advocates say, could in effect supersede the settlement, allowing the administration to get rid of it altogether by dropping the rule a year or two later.

“Once you rescind that regulation, then you go back to being able to do whatever you want and the detention becomes the complete discretion of ICE,” said Leon Fresco, former deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation at the Department of Justice. “That is where people think this is headed.”

 The president and his top aides have framed the family separation issue as something Democrats could end by signing onto Republican legislation addressing Trump’s priorities, including funding the border wall — even though the separation moves are solely the outgrowth of a Department of Justice decision and not grounded in a particular law.

Miller, who was instrumental to Trump’s early travel ban — which, like the border separations, triggered widespread public outrage and was put into effect without sufficient logistical planning — is among those who see the border crisis as a winning campaign issue.

“That is the fundamental political contrast and political debate that is unfolding right now,” he said in an interview with Breitbart News published on May 24. “The Democratic Party is at grave risk of completely marginalizing itself from the American voters by continuing to lean into its absolutist anti-enforcement positions.”

And some in the Trump administration are not inclined to back down from any of its immigration policies because they’ve been planning them for more than a year, according to one White House official and a Republican close to the administration.

On Jan. 25, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that called for the arrest and detention of people caught crossing the border illegally — a broad preview of the Department of Justice’s April “zero-tolerance” decision to refer all border-crossers for federal prosecution, which has led to the separation of children from parents being sent into criminal courts.

Many of the ideas for enacting more aggressive immigration enforcement or tweaking old government rules originated with the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, which Miller effectively runs.

Other participants in the effort include: John Walk, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ son-in-law; Thomas Homan, the soon-to-retire head of ICE; Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Gene Hamilton, a former staffer to Sessions and ex-DHS official, who’s now at the Department of Justice; and officials throughout the Department of Homeland Security.

In his Breitbart News interview in May, Miller specially called for closer examination of H1-B visas, which allow U.S. employers to hire foreign workers for certain specialized jobs.

 The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing a proposal to make it harder for immigrants with visas to obtain permanent residency, including a green card, if they or their children have used government benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or tax credits. Advocates fear this would keep people from seeking necessary help or medical attention.

The Department of Homeland Security’s list of proposed rules, released this spring, offers another roadmap for the coming changes.

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Nancy Cook