How Stephen Miller Made Immigration Personal

In the summer of 2017, a group of White House aides were in Paris, enjoying some rare downtime during Donald Trump’s first trip to France as president.

As the Trump officials soaked up a July evening along the banks of the Seine, one stepped away to take a phone call from the U.S. It was Stephen Miller, the president’s then-31-year-old chief policy adviser, speechwriter and hard-line immigration policy advocate.

As the other officials looked on, Miller spent several minutes loudly pressing administration officials on the other end of the line to deport an individual who had been detained by immigration authorities.

The episode, recounted by two former administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter, struck some of Miller’s colleagues as bizarre. They were familiar by then with Miller’s volatile temper, and of his central role in Trump’s immigration policy. Even so, the effort by a young White House aide to dictate the fate of a single detainee was a startling sign of his deep involvement in the federal government’s immigration system.

The one-time Senate aide is a key architect of Trump’s tough immigration policies — a controversial role affirmed when he helped engineer a recent purge of Department of Homeland Security officials deemed too soft on border security. Miller has helped shape several explosive Trump actions, including an early 2017 executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority nations and Trump’s crusade for a wall on the border with Mexico. Most recently, he has backed an idea to relocate undocumented immigrants to “sanctuary cities” within the U.S., a scheme that has been described as political retribution by Democratic opponents.

While Miller’s influence over immigration policy is well-known by now, less understood is his granular interest in the people crossing the U.S. border, and the seemingly unprecedented steps he has taken to reveal information about their personal backgrounds.

Soon after Trump took office, for instance, Miller began calling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to insist that they include more details — such as full names and pending criminal charges — in press releases about immigrants they had apprehended, detained or planned to deport, according to three current and former DHS officials.

“At one point, he wanted us to be releasing press releases every day about the people we had detained and their criminal status. We were constantly doing a dance just to remain in a legal place,” recalled a former DHS official.


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