Jason Zengerle recounts and explains the turnover in key enforcement positions in the past few months. The key event was the pushing out of Nielson (Homeland Security) and Vitiello (ICE).
“A defining conflict of the Trump administration….has been the one between the small group of ideologues like Stephen Miller and the much bigger cadres of conventional Republican appointees who have gone to work for Trump.” Miller won. Between April and July, some key positions were filled by Miller allies. Here is a scorecard and Zengerle’s explanation of a key crisis.
Secretary of Homeland Security April — Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigns, replaced Kevin McAleenan, then head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as acting secretary.
Customs and Border Protection June – Acting Commissioner John Sanders, who took the position from McAleeen in April, is replaced by Mark Morgan, whose transferred from running ICE.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): June — Mathew Albense appointed acting director, replacing Mark Morgan. Albence had served as executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations arm. Last year he told a congressional hearing that family detention centers are “more like summer camp” than jail. Albence will be the fourth acting director of ICE since President Trump took office. Tom Homan as acting director in early 2017. Then Ronald Vitiello, then-acting deputy commissioner at CBP. The White House pulled Vitiello’s nomination in early April (explanation below). Then Mark Morgan.
Citizenship and Immigration Services: In July, Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general and avowed restrictionist, took over as the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The underlying crisis that pushed Nielsen and Vitiello out:
Per Zengerle, in early 2019 Miller began agitating for ICE to expand its deportation efforts, pursuing not just felons for deportation but families as well. His entreaties struck a chord with Matthew Albence, then deputy director of ICE, who had been in charge of ICE’s removal and enforcement operations. “Stephen found an ally in Albence.”
Albence hoped to begin the operation without Nielsen’s knowledge or approval. In March, he took the plan to his boss, Ronald D. Vitiello, the acting director of ICE, and told him that he intended to start the operation in the next 72 hours. Vitiello told Albence that he needed to get Nielsen’s go-ahead. Albence and ICE officials then briefed Nielsen. After several meetings, Nielsen refused to give the operation — which came to be known inside D.H.S. as the “family op” — her O.K. on the grounds that ICE’s plans were still inadequate and that after the family-separation debacle the public backlash would be too intense.
But within weeks, Nielsen had resigned and Trump had withdrawn Vitiello’s nomination to be ICE director.
Background on Miller:
In 2014, as an aide to Sessions — who was an Alabama senator at the time and who holds similar views — Miller worked with media allies at Breitbart and The Daily Caller to gin up conservative outrage that was instrumental in scuttling bipartisan immigration-reform legislation. In 2016, as a staff member on Trump’s presidential campaign, he not only wrote the candidate’s hard-line anti-immigration speeches but also often served as the warm-up act at his rallies.