It’s unsettling enough to have a Cabinet secretary undermining the president’s agenda. It’s quite another matter for the secretary of Homeland Security to place the lives of immigration officers in danger by leaking details of a sensitive removal operation to a hostile media and to hostile local governments. Yet, that is exactly what acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan did, according to numerous published media reports, as well as several senior DHS officials who spoke on background to CR.
A Fifth Column in DHS
For quite some time, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been planning a novel idea – actually enforcing current law and deporting at least those Central Americans who’ve received final deportation orders from an immigration judge. Indeed, Mark Morgan, the acting ICE Director, made that a centerpiece of his enforcement plan as incoming head of DHS’s immigration enforcement arm. What wasn’t known to the public were the specific details of the plan…until Washington Post reporter Nick Miroff hopped a ride on Kevin McAleenan’s plane to Guatemala on Wednesday.
Suddenly, on Friday, Miroff broke the news in the Post that ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) planned to conduct “predawn raids” on Sunday “to target up to 2,000 families in as many as 10 U.S cities,” some of which were spelled out in the article. The article then noted how “McAleenan has been urging ICE, an agency within his department, to conduct a narrower, more target operation that would seek to detain a group of about 150 families that were provided attorneys but dropped out of the legal process and absconded.”
The Post article further reiterated McAleenan’s virulent opposition to following current law:
McAleenan has warned that an indiscriminate operation to arrest migrants in their homes and at work sites risks separating children from their parents in cases where the children are at day care, summer camp or friends’ houses. He also has maintained that ICE should not devote major resources to carrying out a mass interior sweep while telling lawmakers it needs emergency funding to address the crisis at the U.S. border.
The article then goes on to detail ICE plans to use hotels as staging grounds for gathering together families. In a push-pull style of reporting, the Post both divulged the operation and tipped off local liberal leaders in New York and California and then solicited reaction from them, making it clear that ERO agents would be entering a hornet’s nest.
Only One Man had Motive and Opportunity to Leak
Appearing on Fox News on Saturday, former acting ICE Director Tom Homan also insinuated that McAleenan is the man behind the iron curtain here.
“I’ll tell you what, these mayors aren’t the only ones resisting ICE,” said a visibly angry Homan who is slated to become Trump’s new border czar. “You’ve got the sitting Secretary of Homeland Security resisting what ICE is trying to do. In the Washington Post story, and numerous media outlets, he does not support this operation. … If that’s his position, then he’s on the wrong side of the issue. You don’t tell the men and women of ICE a day before they go out there and do this operation … look this story was leaked, they gave the location of the cities, the day it was supposed to start, [and] how many targets. This leak – which I know where the leak came from, I think we all know where the leak came from, that story only benefits one person. It put these officers at greater risk of harm.”
Homan noted that while the president announced the general strategy in the preceding week, he didn’t give the specifics of the operation that were divulged to the Post.
One senior DHS official, whose name must remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media, told CR it’s “inconceivable” that the leak didn’t emanate from McAleenan or indirectly ordered through one of his staffers.
“There were only a few people involved in that discussion and [acting ICE Director] Morgan would never comprise the security of his agents by leaking the details,” said the high-ranking DHS official. “The president most certainly would never have leaked anything to the Washington Post of all outlets, so who is left?”
Another official told CR that “if you look at who had both the motive and the opportunity to come out smelling like a rose and appearing like a martyr, that is the DHS secretary.”
Both Buzzfeed and the Washington Examiner quoted unnamed sources familiar with the operation who pointed the finger at McAleenan. I was not able to verify if they were the same DHS officials who spoke to me.
I’ve been told further by the same senior DHS officials that one of McAleenan’s recent arguments against enforcing current law is his concern that such action would jeopardize Democrat support for the supplemental spending bill that just passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The silly irony is that the supplemental bill does not fund a dime of enforcement or removal, but rather funds more refugee resettlement for illegal aliens and services for those coming to the border, including legal aid. To trade an operation that would deter more illegal immigration with the hope of securing more funding that will likely incentivize the migration is one of the most counterintuitive arguments imaginable.
Either way, it’s quite shocking that McAleenan or one of his aides would leak such a dicey ICE operation. On Saturday evening, ICE spokesperson Carol Danko released a statement saying they were compelled to abort the operation in light of the security risks. “Any leak telegraphing sensitive law enforcement operations is egregious and puts our officers’ safety in danger,” said Danko.
Is it really a legal problem or a problem with will and personnel?
It’s hard to begrudge the president for pulling the plug on this particular operation in light of the leak. However, it begs the obvious question: Wouldn’t the next step be to fire McAleenan?
The president clearly feels boxed in because of the Senate’s slow pace of confirming new nominees, but a new nominee, such as someone like Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw, should have been sent to the Senate shortly after Kirstjen Nielsen vacated the position of DHS Secretary. In the meantime, the current acting deputy DHS secretary, David Pekoskie, can move up, but Trump should make it clear that Tom Homan’s policies will prevail on the immigration portfolio. For McAleenan to remain in this position would be the kiss of death for the president’s border promises.
Four current and former DHS officials also confirmed with CR that McAleenan was one of the driving forces behind the Trump administration’s decisions not to implement expedited removal. According to current law, every illegal immigrant is to be deported without any review by an immigration judge unless they can prove to the satisfaction of an immigration officer that they have resided here for two consecutive years. Lawless policies of past administration led to regulations that limit expedited removal to just those at the border within 14 days, and even then, it is seldom used. Just five days after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order (sec.11c) directing his DHS secretary to properly follow the statutory framework of expedited removal. That was squelched by McAleenan.
Now, it’s clear that not only does McAleenan think every illegal immigrant is entitled to adjudicate his incursion into the country, in contravention to existing law, even those who who’ve gone through that gratuitous process should not be deported.
The upshot of the border crisis is that all the keys lie not in changing current law but changing current policies that undermine the letter and intent of our immigration laws. The president doesn’t need Congress for that. He doesn’t need Congress to rescind Obama’s amnesty. He doesn’t need Congress to stop issuing work permits to bogus asylees. He doesn’t need Congress to more aggressively deploy the military against the cartels and designate the cartels as terrorists. He doesn’t need Congress to enforce an 1182(f) shutoff of all asylum requests until the backlog is cleared, a policy that any sensible administration would have done long ago.
Indeed, the commander-in-chief of our military who controls entry and commerce into the country doesn’t need Congress to deter and defend against a strategic invasion from the cartels. And with regards to contagious diseases, just on that account alone, law requires that these people be stopped at the border.
What Trump needs is administrative officials who share his values across all the relevant departments and agencies. That begins with the top gun at DHS.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.