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Immigration 101: Who is Mark Morgan, Trump’s Nominee to Head ICE?

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On May 5, 2019, Donald Trump announced via Twitter that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) chief Mark Morgan would be his next nominee to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Trump’s announcement came a few weeks after he abruptly pulled the nomination of ICE’s acting director, Ron Vitiello, saying he wanted to go in a “tougher direction.” This was a shocking statement for an Administration that has already defined itself by its cruelty towards immigrants and separated thousands of migrant children from their families. Morgan, it has been said, likely got the job by spending the last few months going on Fox News to applaud the Administration’s anti-immigrant policies, signaling he would likely green light whatever ideas Donald Trump and Stephen Miller hatch, no matter how cruel or ineffective.

Morgan’s path to ICE

Morgan grew up in the Kansas City area before a two-decade career in the FBI. In 2014, he joined CBP in a temporary capacity as the acting assistant commissioner for internal affairs, followed by a 2016 appointment to head CBP. His outsider status caused tensions with the border patrol union, a strong ally of Trump’s which reportedly lobbied for Morgan’s quick ouster in 2017. Morgan called the Administration “heartless and void of any decency and compassion,” after his removal.

Morgan’s early assessment of the Trump Administration may have been his most accurate; nevertheless, he spent much of 2019 going on cable news to sing Trump’s praises in a transparent attempt to rejoin the Administration. Morgan has made over 100 TV and radio appearances, 80 of which were on Fox News or the Fox Business Network. This means that he appeared somewhere on Fox almost every other day in the six months leading up to Trump tapping him for the ICE position.  

As an unnamed former ICE official recently told Politico about how Morgan seems to have gotten nominated:

He really liked being on TV and Fox kept inviting him back so he kept saying things a little more crazier to keep getting invited back on. Things kind of spiraled and pretty soon he realized that he was on a short list for [the ICE] nomination.

The same Politico article, however, also explained that Morgan may have been nominated simply because Trump — following an April 2019 purge of the Department of Homeland Security — was running out of other options.

Mark Morgan’s statements and positions

On Tucker Carlson’s show on January 14, 2019, Morgan one of his most famous and racist quotes to date: “I’ve been to detention facilities where I’ve walked up to these individuals that are so-called minors. I’ve looked at them — and I’ve looked at their eyes, Tucker — and I’ve said, ‘That is a soon-to-be MS-13 gang member.’ It’s unequivocal.”

Advocates and experts blasted the quote, while studies demonstrated that the link between unaccompanied minors and criminality is false.

In a different appearance on Carlson’s show in January, Morgan claimed that border walls “absolutely work.” They don’t, especially not one along the entire border like Trump has suggested. Morgan, however, has said that he has supported Trump’s wall since “day one.”

Morgan also supported Trump’s political stunt of declaring a fake national emergency in an attempt to subvert Congress to get money for his wall. Trump had “no choice” but to declare a national emergency, Morgan said. He claimed it was necessary and in “the best interest of this country.” Morgan is, of course, referring to a power grab which led to major rebuke of Trump from his own party and forced Trump’s first veto after both houses of Congress voted to oppose his emergency declaration.

On Fox & Friends in March, Morgan blatantly and falsely claimed migrant children were not being held in cages, “They’re not cages. They’re actually really nice facilities,” Morgan said of conditions that lacked even basic water and sanitary standards. The following month, Morgan switched course and said CBP should be “applauded” for the keeping migrant children in cages.

Morgan also echoed the Trump Administration’s false claims about their family separation policy. Morgan first falsely claimed the Administration “wasn’t separating families,” while thousands of migrant children were being taken from their parents. Later, he echoed the Administration’s call for Congress to end the Flores settlement that has protected children from indefinite detention.

Morgan has also repeated the Administration’s lie that asylum seekers don’t show up for court dates. As he said, “the incentive is: grab kid, step one foot onto U.S. soil, and you’re allowed in, never to be heard from again.” The reality is that 89 percent of all asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors attended their final court hearing to receive their asylum decision, and that number increases to 92 percent if the individual has legal representation.

The Administration’s legally dubious “remain in Mexico” policy of sending asylum seekers to Mexico to await their court hearings also has Morgan’s full-throated support. Despite the chaos has led to — where the Administration failed to give the public notice about the change and gave no explanation on how U.S.-based attorneys would have access to clients stuck in Mexico — Morgan has called for the program to be implemented across the entire southern border and wants DHS to use the practice more frequently. The program is also legally dubious and is winding its way through the courts.

On Fox News in April, Morgan supported another horrendously political and legally dubious proposals from the White House: sending detained immigrants to ‘safe cities’ as political retribution. As he said, “the border patrol, ICE, their facilities are overwhelmed…They have no choice. They’re going to have to start pushing these individuals out.” This was a proposal that other Trump Administration officials rejected at first because they believed it raised financial, legal, and logistical concerns — but Morgan seems to be all in.

Mark Morgan and Lou Dobbs

Morgan’s sycophancy has not gone unnoticed. Trump has repeatedly praised Morgan by name in tweets and would reportedly even called Morgan following his television appearances. Additionally, Morgan’s repeated appearances on Lou Dobbs’ show were likely key to landing him the nomination.  

Dobbs, who uses his nightly program on the Fox Business Network to peddle conspiracy theories and xenophobia, is extremely close to and influential on Donald Trump. Steve Bannon said the two are “completely in sync on immigration and trade”, and described Dobbs’ show as “Trump 2020 TV, almost an unofficial extension of the president’s reelection campaign.” The Washington Post described their relationship as a “lovefest” and noted that they sometimes speak every day. This is despite (or, rather, probably because of) Dobbs’ penchant for fear-mongering about immigrants spreading diseases and describing them as criminals overrunning the border, racist falsehoods which cost Dobbs his CNN show in 2009.

Morgan appeared on Dobbs’ show the night before Trump’s tweet tapping Mark Morgan for the ICE position. On the show, Dobbs floated the question about Morgan taking such a position; Morgan indicated his interest and the next day was offered the job.

Mark Morgan’s future at ICE

Around the time of Morgan’s nomination to ICE, the Washington Post reported on the Trump Administration’s plan to conduct a massive, nationwide immigration raid, which could detain 10,000 families, parents, and children. The previous nominee to head ICE, Ron Vitiello, and then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, opposed the plan on logistical grounds, a stance which led to their firings. But reportedly, the plan is still under consideration, and Morgan seems ready to carry it out, telling the Los Angeles Times that he would like to see a “ramp up interior enforcement.” The idea is a monstrous one, and would lead to armed ICE agents in American neighborhoods, ripping families out of their homes and tearing parents apart from their children.

Politico has flagged roadblocks ahead for Morgan, such as whether he — who mostly spent his career in the FBI — can understand “the complexities of domestic immigration enforcement”. It’s also been suggested that he still has “enemies inside or close to the Trump administration” who helped orchestrate and move along his firing the first time around. Meanwhile, he still needs to be confirmed by the Senate, and there are numerous concerns he needs to answer. If Mark Morgan, as ICE director, continues to be the yes-man he has played on TV for the last six months, the Administration will continue to pursue immigration policies that are as cruel as they are ineffective.