With Ally in Oval Office, Immigration Hard-Liners Ascend to Power

Nicholas Kulish, NY Times, April 24, 2017

After sending more than 13,000 Twitter messages in less than three years, Jon Feere, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, suddenly went silent after Inauguration Day.

As a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that favors significant reductions in immigration, Mr. Feere had staked out tough positions on the subject, including pushing for an end to automatic citizenship for children born in the United States.

Jon Feere

Jon Feere

Mr. Feere’s newfound reticence reflected not a change of heart but a new employer. He now works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency tasked with finding and deporting people living in the United States illegally.

His last Twitter post, on Jan. 20, read simply: “It’s time to make immigration policy great again.”

For years, a network of immigration hard-liners in Washington was known chiefly for fending off proposals to legalize the status of more people. But with the election of a like-minded president, these groups have moved unexpectedly from defense to offense, with some of their leaders now in positions to carry out their agenda on a national scale.

“We’ve worked closely with lots of people, who are now very well placed in his administration, for a long time,” said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, another hard-line group.

Julie Kirchner, who served for a decade as executive director of the organization, also known as FAIR, is now working as an adviser to the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. Kellyanne Conway, before she was known for campaign work and spirited defenses of Mr. Trump on cable television, worked regularly as a pollster for FAIR.

Mr. Trump’s senior White House adviser, Stephen Miller, worked tirelessly to defeat immigration reform as a staff member for Senator Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general. Gene P. Hamilton, who worked on illegal immigration as Mr. Sessions’s counsel on the Judiciary Committee, is now a senior counselor at the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of the Border Patrol and ICE, where Mr. Feere is working. Julia Hahn, who wrote about immigration for Breitbart — with headlines like “Republican-Led Congress Oversees Large-Scale Importation of Somali Migrants” — has followed her former boss, Stephen K. Bannon, to the White House as a deputy policy strategist.

Stephen Miller

Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller. (Credit Image: © Joshua Roberts/Reuters via ZUMA Press)

Daniel Tichenor, an immigration politics scholar at the University of Oregon, called it “highly unusual” in the post-World War II era to have proponents of sharply reduced immigration in such high-ranking positions.

“You would have to go to the 1920s and 1930s to find a comparable period in which you could point to people within the executive agencies and the White House who favored significant restrictions,” Mr. Tichenor said.

Their influence is already being felt. Mr. Trump is known for his sound-bite-ready pledges to deport millions of people here illegally and to build a border wall, but some of the administration’s more technical yet critical changes to immigration procedures came directly from officials with long ties to the hard-line groups.

These include expanding cooperation between immigration agents and local law enforcement officials; cracking down on “sanctuary cities”; making it more difficult for migrants to successfully claim asylum; allowing the Border Patrol access to all federal lands; and curtailing the practice of “catch and release,” in which undocumented immigrants are released from detention while their cases plod through the courts.

Although his proposed budget slashed $1 billion from the Justice Department, Mr. Trump included $80 million to hire new judges to accelerate deportation proceedings. Mr. Sessions said at an event at the border in Arizona this month that 50 would be added to the bench this year and 75 more next year.

“Trump has put together the people who are taking this thing down to the operating-instruction level,” Mr. Stein said.

Even those who have labored for decades to scale back immigration did not expect such a dramatic change. “This is inconceivable a year ago,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “Frankly, it’s almost inconceivable six months ago.”

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Despite their recent policy victories, the groups remain wary as to whether the administration will follow through on all its promises. In particular they point to Mr. Trump’s failure to immediately end President Barack Obama’s policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, allowing the so-called Dreamers who came illegally as children to remain in the country, as well as his choice of a pro-immigration economist to lead his Council of Economic Advisers.

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“The biggest enemy we face right now is complacency,” Mr. Stein of FAIR said, “because Trump’s people have our ideas.”

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