Stephen Miller hatched secret plan to embed ICE agents at refugee agency for children: report

Democrats banned the refugee agency from sharing info with ICE, but Miller is trying to circumvent the law

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 21, 2019 10:40AM (EST)

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
White House senior adviser Stephen Miller (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller pushed a “secret” plan to embed immigration agents at a refugee agency that cares for unaccompanied migrant children, The Washington Post reports.

Miller, who has argued that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was being exploited by families hiring smugglers to bring their kids over the border, pushed for the agency to allow embedded ICE agents to collect information from the children’s parents to target them for deportation, according to the report.

Senior HHS officials rejected Miller’s plan, six current and former officials told The Post, but agreed to let ICE agents collect fingerprints and biometric data from adults picking up children at the facilities. ICE could then use the data to target them for deportation.

The plan, which has not been announced, is intended to get around laws that bar the refugee agency from being used for deportation enforcement. Past Trump administration schemes to allow ICE to have access to the refugee program were met with opposition from senior officials over concerns that it could discourage families from claiming their children out of fear of arrest.

ICE and HHS officials told The Post that the information gathered would be used to screen adults claiming children for “red flags” and criminal convictions. But the officials claimed that the data would not be used to arrest relatives who come forward to claim unaccompanied children.

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told the outlet that the agency has better tools than HHS to vet sponsors of the unaccompanied children, “including better capabilities to identify fraudulent documents or documents obtained by fraud.”

Miller developed the plan after Congressional Democrats sought to block a similar scheme that led to a drop in the number of sponsors claiming children and an influx in the number of children in government custody. A 2019 funding bill explicitly barred the Department of Homeland Security from using child sponsor data for ICE deportation target lists.

The measure said that no federal money “may be used by the Secretary of Homeland Security to place in detention, remove, refer for a decision whether to initiate removal proceedings, or initiate removal proceedings against a sponsor, potential sponsor, or member of a household of a sponsor or potential sponsor of an unaccompanied alien child.”

Cox claimed that the new plan does not violate the law. He told The Post that once a sponsor’s application is rejected “that individual is no longer considered to be a sponsor or potential sponsor” and can therefore be arrested.

Cox acknowledged that the program may result in children being left in government custody for longer periods of time but insisted that the increased screening “should take precedence over speed of placement to what may ultimately be an unsafe environment for the child.”

The plan comes after previous attempts to allow information sharing between ORR and ICE were met with opposition at the top ranks at HHS. Miller developed the new plan with ORR head Jonathan Hayes, but HHS officials balked at top ICE official Caleb Vitiello being temporarily assigned to work at ORR. Vitiello had worked with Miller in the White House. White House officials have groused that HHS officials have repeatedly “sabotaged” their plans, according to The Post.

Miller has increasingly gained influence over the Trump administration’s immigration policy after he led a purge of senior DHS officials earlier this year. At the same time, more than 100 Democrats have called for his ouster after former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh leaked hundreds of emails showing Miller promoting white nationalist and white supremacist outlets while working as an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

"What Stephen Miller sent to me in those emails has become policy at the Trump administration," McHugh told the Southern Poverty Law Center, which obtained the emails.

Miller denied that he was a white nationalist in an interview with Fox Business on Friday, calling the allegation “profoundly offensive and completely outrageous.”

Miller said that Democrats were the ones who were bigoted.

“It's an attempt on the part of the Democratic party to attack and demonize a Jewish staffer, and make no mistake, there is a deep vein of anti-Semitism that is running through today's Democratic Party,” he claimed, despite his own emails showing him extensively promoting hateful content disparaging people of color.

On Friday, a group of 25 Jewish Democratic members of Congress called on President Donald Trump to fire Miller.

"His documentation of white nationalist and virulently anti-immigrant tropes is wholly unacceptable and disqualifying for a government employee,” they said in a letter to the president obtained by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "We are also deeply troubled that your Administration is claiming that the legitimate criticism of Miller is anti-Semitic simply because Miller is Jewish. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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