Donald Trump expands his purge of Homeland Security officials on Monday, amid revelations of his impulsive orders to close part of the US-Mexico border and to defy courts over immigration and asylum.
On Monday Trump — or his hardline anti-immigrant advisors like Stephen Miller — forced out Randolph D. Alles, the director of the Secret Service, a day after Trump ousted Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen.
Officials said at least two to four more high-ranking staff, affiliated with Nielsen, are expected to be pushed out soon. Miller is reportedly targeting Francis Cissna, the head of US Citizenship and Immigration Services; Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, one of Cissna’s top deputies; and John Mitnick, Homeland Security’s general counsel.
The White House is also pressing for the resignation of Claire Grady, the acting deputy secretary.
The purge follows Trump’s designation of Miller — the spammer of legislators and journalists who quickly rose in the 2016 campaign because of his strident attacks on supposed enemies — to handle all immigration matters.
And it comes as Trump steps up demands which many officials see as whimsical and counter-productive. Two weeks ago, Trump said he would soon close all of the US-Mexico border, ordering a cutoff near El Paso, Texas.
“Ranting and raving” at a March 21 White House meeting, Trump ordered Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to shut down the port of El Pasocthe the next day at noon, with other ports closed in following days.
Nielsen said the initiative was a bad and even dangerous idea. She proposed the alternative of slowing down entries at legal ports.
Trump backed away from a full closure, saying he was giving one year’s notice to Mexico. However, Nielsen’s opposition contributed to her dismissal on Sunday.
Nielsen also objected to Trump’s sudden withdrawal — said be prompted by Miller — last Thursday of the nomination of Ronald Vitiello, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforceent, to take over permanently.
Wait times for trucks at the U.S.-Mexico border have jumped up to 10 hours more than usual following Trump's threats to close crossings pic.twitter.com/pW1DyZwUXi
— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) April 8, 2019
Senior officials also said that Trump has also pressed for months for a renewal of the Administration’s break-up of immigrant families.
Under the “zero tolerance” policy announced last April, the Administration oversaw the separation of almost 3,000 children from their parents, sending the juveniles into detention hundreds and even thousands of miles away.
Federal courts forced Trump to halt the separations and ordered official to reunite families. However, in a court filing last week, Administration lawyers said it may take up to two years for some reunions, given poor record-keeping and the deportation of many parents while children remained in the US.
“Multiple sources” say Trump wants family separations even if they arrive at a legal port of entry and are eligible to apply for asylum.
Nielsen tried to explain that court rulings prevent the reimposition of the policy, and White House staffers explained it would be a PR disaster as Trump campaigns for re-election in 2020.
But Trump persisted. “He just wants to separate families,” said a senior administration official.
Last Friday, as he visited Calexico, California to stand in front of an enhanced border fence, Trump told border agents not to let in any migrants. He said they should tell the migrants that the US had no capacity.
If courts objected, Trump said, the border agents should respond, “Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.”
After Trump left, agents sought further advice from superiors, who said they were not giving them a direction on Trump’s lines. If the agents proceeded, they did so assuming personal liability.
The superiors emphasized, “You have to follow the law.”