Deep State: Donald Trump’s DHS Chief Directed Attack on Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the House Homeland Security Committee on global terrorism and threats to the homeland in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 30, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

The just-departed head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quietly asked a group of lawyers to criticize President Donald Trump’s successful policy of keeping migrants in Mexico prior to their court hearings, according to a report in BuzzFeed News.

The request was made by Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of DHS, who quit the agency Wednesday, November 13. The BuzzFeed article was posted the day after he quit, and it said:

A group of senior DHS officials not involved with [the Migrant Protection Protocols program] and organized by recently departed acting secretary Kevin McAleenan to review the implementation of the program made a number of recommendations that suggest significant issues created by the program at the border. In a memo from McAleenan prior to his departure, the former acting secretary called on DHS sub-agencies to deliver a plan within a month to address the recommendations and three months to implement the changes.

“The big takeaway from it is that MPP is not working,” said a former DHS official. “This seems to align with every criticism you hear of MPP. Some of these recommendations are phrased mildly but suggest they found serious problems that need to be remedied.”

“On the way out, McAleenan tosses a hand grenade behind him,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “That is the kind of obstruction of administration policy you would expect from the person who very likely would have been Hillary’s DHS secretary,” he said, adding:

The idea that [the MPP program] is not working is absurd – of course it is working. The border numbers have been going down precisely because so many [migrants] have to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.

DHS posted a statement on the panel:

The MPP has been successful at every metric, improving the asylum process for more than 55,000 individuals, and the Department is committed to continually strengthening the program. The former Acting Secretary requested this independent, internal review of MPP because it has been such an effective program and will continue to be for the long-term.

The Department is committed to the integrity of MPP and will continue to assess and improve the program if and when necessary. Successful organizations continually audit and review their programs to develop best practices and seek  ways to improve effectiveness and efficiency, which is why this report was requested. The independent group was composed of officers from the Offices of Privacy and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and lawyers who were not involved in the creation of the program. We thank the independent team for their recommendations and look forward to the review and response by the subject matter experts.

The BuzzFeed article was posted as the Los Angeles Times posted an article describing agency officials who reject the MPP program, and as a Democrat senator released a report critical of the MPP program.

“It is kind of suspicious that [McAleenan’s report] gets published the same time as the Los Angeles Times story. They are related: Were they coordinated?” Krikorian asked, adding, “The bureaucracy is trying to decide what [presidential] policy says.”

However, the new second-in-command at DHS, likely Ken Cuccinelli, said Krikorian, may be able to push back if he is given authority over the three immigration agencies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The MPP program redirects migrants back into Mexico while officials schedule their asylum hearings. The migrants are then allowed back into the U.S. for their asylum case, and then either sent back to Mexico when they are rejected, or released into the United States.

The program blocks migrants from getting the U.S. jobs they seek, and it prevents migrants from earning money they need to pay their smuggling debts to the cartels, and the necessary money to smuggle their spouses and children into the United States.

The program was launched in 2019, partly because a California judge refused to close the “Flores” loophole. The Flores loophole forces officials to release economic migrants into the United States’ job market whenever migrants brought at least one child across the border — and it triggered a massive northward flow of more than two million Central American migrants into Americans’ workplaces, neighborhood rentals, and schools.

Business groups have lobbied to preserve this inflow of cheap workers, renters, and consumers. Democrat politicians and legal groups cheered the flood of migrants, and repeatedly refused to set any limits, despite the growing political costs and economic shock to Americans:

But Trump’s response — the MPP program and other measures — has proved so successful that the number of detained migrants in “family units”  — migrants with children —  has plunged from 84,486 in May 2019 to 9,733 in October 2019.

Before the MPP program, Krikorian said:

[Migrants] assumed they could make a frivolous asylum claim and be released into the United States, and it did not matter if they won or lost [their asylum case]. Once they can get past the Border Patrol into the United States, they can get a job, crash with their relatives, enroll their kids in school, and hope they are never found against by ICE. Even if they come to [government] hearings to get a work permit … when they are ordered removed because they lose their [asylum] case, they will ignore it … If you are released in the U.S. and you lose [your asylum case], you’ve already won.

But once the MPP program was created, the migrants’ rational calculations had to change, he said. “If you are in [U.S.] detention or in Mexico, when you lose [your asylum claim], you got nothing.”

In October, border agencies detained just 42,000 migrants, down from 140,000 in May 2019.

Roughly 55,000 migrants are waiting in Mexico for their asylum hearings. Without MPP, they would have been released into the United States and would have been able to display their success via cellphone videos to their friends and relatives in Central America, South America, and Africa.

According to BuzzFeed, McAleenan’s unidentified aides described themselves as a “Red Team” of critics:

The “Red Team” recommendations call on agencies within DHS, including CBP, to provide immigration court hearing notices in multiple languages, improve language access for immigrants and ensure that they understand the “questions asked and can make informed decisions,” standardize procedures for screening vulnerable populations like children and the disabled, and clarify the role of CBP officers in the process.

The report also urges border officers to let Central American families with Mexican-born children into the United States, to help migrants get advice from U.S. pro-migration lawyers, and to collect information that will help critics of the program:

The report also calls on DHS to establish measures of effectiveness of the program, like tracking the movements of immigrants pushed into the program, recording the number of proceedings missed due to immigrants who did not show, maintaining a count of the number of individuals asserting fear at the border, and those who have had to remain overnight in the US, among other items.

On November 15, the Los Angeles Times posted an article with the headline “Asylum officers rebel against Trump policies they say are immoral and illegal”:

It only took Doug Stephens two days to decide: He wasn’t going to implement President Trump’s latest policy to restrict immigration, known as Remain in Mexico. The asylum officer wouldn’t interview any more asylum seekers only to send them back to danger in Mexico.

As a federal employee, refusing to implement the government policy probably meant that he’d be fired, and an end to his career as a public servant. He’d only been assigned five of the interviews so far. But it was five too many — to the trained attorney, the policy officially termed “Migrant Protection Protocols” was not only unethical, it was against the law.

But he isn’t alone. Across the country, asylum officers are calling in sick, requesting transfers, retiring earlier than planned and quitting, all to resist this and other Trump administration immigration policies that they view as illegal, according to Stephens, as well as other asylum officers and officials.

A DHS spokeswoman celebrated the resignation of the government lawyer who opposes the policy of temporarily sending asylum-seekers back into Mexico.

“There’s an LA Times article profiling an asylum officer who refused to do MPP asylum screenings because he says it’s immoral and illegal,” said an email from DHS spokeswoman Heather Swift.

The article then goes into how other officers are looking for new jobs or quit. … Below is our response.

There are millions of Americans who support the President’s America first immigration agenda and who would love the opportunity to help enforce our immigration laws. And for those who don’t, the stock market is soaring and the economy has never been better for job seekers thanks to President Trump’s bold economic agenda.

On November 14, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released a report with numerous criticisms of the MPP program, titled “Shattered Refuge.”

This report details the extensive efforts the Trump administration has undertaken since January 2017 to deter and prevent asylum seekers from legally claiming asylum within the United States. The report finds that many of these efforts have involved actions that are in violation of domestic and international law; have placed political pressure on asylum officers to deny refuge to worthy applicants; and have subjected people seeking asylum to dehumanizing, dangerous, and in some cases deadly conditions.

is the result of investigative work performed by this office, including new information reported by whistleblowers from within the immigration and asylum system. Part II includes previously unreported information about major changes to the asylum training process, and direct evidence of whistleblowers’ concerns. It also includes alarming reports of how the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, has been implemented on the ground

Merkley’s report recommends that the law be changed to allow border officials to be fined $10,000 when they impede migrants. His report also urges that migrants under age 18 be given taxpayer-funded lawyers, block enforcement actions against migrants who pay smugglers to get their children across the border, reduce the detention of migrants while their asylum pleas are being processed, and change the rules for hiring immigration judges.

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