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Immigration 101: Who is Stephen Miller?

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Originally published February 15, 2018; last updated November 19, 2019

Stephen Miller is a senior adviser to Donald Trump, as well as a white nationalist who has been responsible for some of Trump’s most anti-immigrant policies — and his greatest failures. Miller has played a central role in the Muslim ban, ending DACA for Dreamers, Trump’s family separation policy, the early 2019 purge of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and much more. His efforts have been as cruel as they are ineffective.

Miller began working for Trump during his 2016 campaign, joined the transition team, and was put in charge of domestic policy for the incoming Administration.  This happened even though Miller is not a speechwriter, policy wonk, negotiator, or someone with other clear skills to offer the White House — rather, he is an ideologue whose entire life and career have been dedicated to extremist policies. He’s learned some of that extremism from working alongside other anti-immigrant extremists like former Breitbart head Steve Bannon and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions

In November 2019, a trove of leaked emails proved that Miller is a white nationalist whose policy ideas are shaped by xenophobia. While working for then-Senator Sessions, he continuously promoted the work of known white nationalists, citing them as justification for his policy ideas. And now as a leading advisor to Trump, Miller has spent the last three years changing U.S. immigration policy to better reflect his white nationalist tendencies.  This has led to terrible policies for immigrants and their families, and frustration for Democrats and Republicans alike. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) put it in January 2019, during the longest-ever  government shutdown — as long as “Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He’s been an outlier for years.” 

Other quotes depicting Miller have even more strongly emphasized his white nationalist background. . “Stephen actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border. He’s a twisted guy,” one White House adviser told Vanity Fair. “He’s Waffen-SS.” After Miller’s leaked emails were reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a DHS official said they were “sickened” by the “proof” of Miller’s racism.  “Not that it wasn’t clear before — these emails just confirm what we all know,” the DHS official told Buzzfeed News. “I’m disgusted that my venerable agency has turned into his personal tool for hate.”

Advocates, Democrats, and Republicans have all called for Miller’s resignation. As early as  June 2018, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) both called for Miller to step down over his role in family separations at the border. After SPLC’s report on Miller’s email, 80 members of the House called for Miller’s resignation, including the chairs of four congressional caucuses, who issued a joint statement.  Miller’s white nationalism and anti-immigrant extremism certainly have no place anywhere near the White House.  You can sign a petition calling on Miller to resign here

Here’s what the rest of this post covers:

  • Stephen Miller in the White House 
  • Stephen Miller and the 2018 campaign 
  • Stephen Miller and the 2016 campaign 
  • Stephen Miller as a white nationalist 
  • Stephen Miller in his own words
  • Stephen Miller in pop culture 

Stephen Miller in the White House

Even though reports indicate that Miller is Trump’s last, most trusted adviser, Stephen Miller is actually the Trump Administration’s biggest loser. Time and time again, he has led his boss into failure after failure. He has had a hand in almost all of the Administration’s anti-immigrant policies and repeatedly shot down all attempts at real solutions and compromise. Though Miller was initially put in charge of all domestic policy, he has almost exclusively focused on immigration and implementing policies that keep new immigrants out while expelling those already here. Miller’s extreme anti-immigrant policies have led the White House into unforced crises, unnecessary lawsuits, and inflammatory Constitutional conflicts.

Here are numerous examples of when Miller’s anti-immigrant “strategy” steered the White House terribly wrong:

  • The Muslim Ban: Miller was the architect of the first Muslim ban, which created massive confusion throughout the nation and left lawyers, immigrants, U.S. permanent residents, elected officials, and even immigration agents without answers. After the courts blocked the first implementation, Miller followed up on his original catastrophe by publicly stating that the second version of the ban had the “same basic policy outcome for the country,” which was later cited by the judge who blocked the Administration’s second attempt at the Muslim ban.  
  • Ending DACA: In September 2017, after being pushed by Miller, Trump rescinded the deferred action for childhood arrivals program (DACA) for Dreamers. Members of Congress then reached a tentative bipartisan compromise to give Dreamers legal status, but Miller tanked that deal by packing it with poison pills and anti-immigrant demands. In February 2018, the Senate voted on four immigration-and-DACA related deals. While all four failed to pass, the Trump/Miller bill garnered the least amount of votes, creating a major embarrassment for the White House. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told Politico, “I read different things and hear different things that [Trump] is actually sympathetic to the DACA population. But he’s obviously under pressure from hardliners like Stephen Miller to do the wrong thing.”
  • Family Separation Policy: Miller played a crucial role in Trump’s tragic and ongoing family separation / “zero tolerance” policy. He argued that family separation policy would be a deterrent against future migration; it wasn’t. In fact, the numbers of families seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border has increased. Eventually, the overwhelming public backlash to the policy and a federal court ruling forced the Trump Administration into retreat. The issue was a major debacle which generated months upon months of terrible press for the White House, not to mention enormous devastation for countless children and families, and it is unclear what the Trump Administration gained. A year later, the bad press has continued to dog the Administration as thousands more children were found to have been separated. Ultimately the policy separated more than 5,400 children from their families, which doctors say could cause permanent harm.  Meanwhile, there are both humane and effective solutions that could better address the increase of families at the border. But Trump and Miller continue to ignore those solutions in favor of chaos, cruelty, and failure
  • Government shutdown (2018-2019): In late 2018, Miller began pushing Trump to shut down the government in an attempt to extract more taxpayer dollars for his unnecessary border wall. Miller crafted Trump’s first Oval Office speech in an attempt to win support for the border wall, which failed, as did a later January 19 speech. With each speech, Trump’s approval rating actually got worse. Miller then worked behind the scenes to help craft new a poison-pill bill which inexplicably offered terrible, anti-immigrant proposals in order to get the wall that Trump wanted. Unsurprisingly, this approach also failed. Miller’s strategy eventually led to a public revolt among Republican Senators, forcing Trump’s hand and leading to a temporary end to the shutdown. Miller’s strategy caused massive problems for federal workers and their families all across the country, while ultimately gaining nothing in return.
  • Fake national emergency:  After Congress refused to waste money on Trump’s wall, Miller pushed Trump to pull another political stunt by declaring a national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border. The move is likely illegal and is ignorant of the Constitution. National security experts warned that a national emergency would undermine national security, while leading Republicans warned it could set a dangerous precedent. Nevertheless, Miller defended the move, even after Trump admitted that the declaration was unnecessary (at the same press conference where he made his declaration). Both the House and the Republican-controlled Senate then voted for a resolution opposing the national emergency, giving Trump a stunning rebuke and forcing him into his first veto.
  • DHS Purge: In 2019, as his failures on immigration piled up, reports indicated that Miller sought to shift blame onto officials at DHS, where a full-scale purge began in early April. The already understaffed agency — which is responsible for much more than just immigration — is now more vulnerable to Miller’s strategy of chaos, cruelty, and failure.     
  • Sending immigrants to safe cities: In April 2019, the Washington Post reported that Miller pushed for ICE to forcibly send detained immigrants to safe cities (also known as “sanctuary cities”) in a perverse attempt at political retaliation. Sources and emails obtained by Post confirm that the Administration and Miller repeatedly tried to convince ICE to carry out this legally dubious proposal.  Attorneys for ICE (itself not exactly a beacon for fair and just policies), however, warned that such a policy would be inappropriate and the plan was never implemented. “It was basically an idea that Miller wanted that nobody else wanted to carry out,” a Congressional investigator told the Post. “What happened here is that Stephen Miller called people at ICE, said if they’re going to cut funding, you’ve got to make sure you’re releasing people in Pelosi’s district and other congressional districts.”

Read a more detailed account of how Stephen Miller has led the Trump Administration into a series of immigration failures here

Stephen Miller’s major failures aren’t the only anti-immigrant policies he’s pushed during his time in the White House. Below are more of the Trump Administration’s changes and proposed changes to immigration laws and regulations, spearheaded by Miller:

  • Twice lowering the total refugee cap:  For three years in a row, Miller pushed to dramatically cut the cap on refugees entering the U.S., moving the country closer to his ultimate goal of eliminating refugee admissions completely.  For FY 2019, the refugee admissions ceiling is just 30,000, the lowest since the 1980s and a third of the number resettled in 2016. The actual number of refugees resettled could still be even lower — in FY 2018, the ceiling was at 45,000, but only 22,491 refugees were resettled. Julie Hirschfeld Davis for the New York Times characterized Miller’s efforts to cut refugee numbers as “not just to crack down on illegal immigration, but also to fundamentally change the face of legal immigration in America.” In FY 2020, the cap was set at just 18,000, a shameful new record low. 
  • Strong Support for the RAISE Act: In August 2017, Miller threw his support behind the RAISE Act, which would have dramatically curbed the immigration of nonwhite Americans under the guise of bringing in better-educated workers. The bill was applauded by many members of the white nationalist community.
  • A push to demonize immigrants through victims of crime: Miller reportedly likes to start meetings by retelling horror stories of individual crimes and has pushed for the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE, a Trump program) to elevate these stories in the media. Several DHS officials have pushed back, telling Miller that VOICE was meant to support victims and their families — not demonize immigrants. Miller has also reportedly pushed ICE officials to include personal details about detained immigrants in press releases, completely ignoring their privacy rights. 
  • Intervening in individual immigration cases to push for deportation: Miller has repeatedly called DHS officials to personally push for the deportation of individual immigrants, even once interrupting a Paris trip in order to ensure one man’s removal.
  • A push to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS): From the start of the Administration, Miller has pressured DHS to end TPS designations, despite the recommendations of U.S. embassies and regional experts who said the protections were necessary.  As early as 2015, Miller was promoting the idea of demonizing TPS, as found on the white nationalist website VDare.
  • A push policy to dramatically limit the ability of working-class immigrants to enter the U.S. and hamper their ability to remain: Miller has advocated for changes to “public-charge” rules, possibly forcing some 18 million noncitizens and 9 million children who are U.S. citizens, to choose between basic nutritional and housing needs and a continued ability to stay in the U.S. Similarly, Miller has proposed to evict families with undocumented members from public housing, even though this might lead to homelessness for 55,000 U.S. citizen and legal resident children.

Stephen Miller’s divide and distract 2018 midterm election strategy 

In an interview with Breitbart in May 2018, Miller clearly outlined the White House and Republican midterm political strategy for the year. As he claimed, “The Democratic party is at grave risk of completely marginalizing itself from the American voters by continuing to lean into” pro-immigrant positions. Miller made it clear that the Republican strategy for the cycle would be to try and squeeze Democrats by fear-mongering against immigrants. 

Countless numbers of Republicans followed Trump and Miller into this strategy, cranking out TV and online ads that painted immigrants as criminals, terrorists, and murderers. These Republicans largely lost, leading to the largest Democratic gains since Watergate. The worst of the worst anti-immigrant candidates, including White House favorites Kris Kobach (KS), Lou Barletta (PA), and Corey Stewart (VA) fared particularly badly. Overall, Miller’s strategy of xenophobia hugely backfired, just as it did in Virginia for gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie the year before, and it was the whole Republican Party which paid a price for Miller’s miscalculation.

Similar Miller-style anti-immigrant messaging did not appear to be an effective strategy in 2017 or 2019, either

Stephen Miller in the 2016 Trump campaign 

In January 2016, Miller left his Senate job with Jeff Sessions to join the Trump campaign and quickly became an anti-immigrant warm up act at Trump rallies across the country. Miller also helped shape Trump’s dark and deeply xenophobic campaign messaging, before securing a place inside the incoming Administration. He then helped define Trump’s first term, crafting Trump’s infamously dark inauguration speech

Miller is one of the Trump campaign and Trump Administration officials implicated in the question of foreign influence and Russian collusion. Three months before the election Miller sat in on a meeting with Donald Trump Jr.; Erik Prince, an Israeli specialist in social media; and  two wealthy Arab princes. The princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates proposed a multimillion-dollar social media manipulation effort to help elect Trump. While it is still unclear if the proposal was implemented or not, Miller’s participation in such a meeting is concerning.

Volume one of the Mueller report that investigated the possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign mentioned Miller 16 times. The report documented Miller’s communication with Dimitri Simes, the CEO of the Center for the National Interest (CNI) — an organization that, according to the report, had “unparalleled access to Russian officials and politicians among Washington think tanks.” Miller then incorporated advice from CNI in a speech that he wrote for Trump.  

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor on the Trump campaign, also “wrote to senior policy advisor Stephen Miller that ‘[t]he Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready,’” Mueller wrote in the report. 

Stephen Miller as a white nationalist

If your definition of a white nationalist is “someone who hangs around white nationalists, shares their views, and advances their policies,” it seems pretty clear that Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. While Miller may distance himself from such a label, he has long-standing ties to leaders who have expressly advocated for white control of our political system and his policy preferences reflect theirs. More than nine hundred leaked emails recently provided definitive proof of Miller’s white nationalist tendencies. 

A complex idea without a set definition, white nationalism is an outgrowth of  white supremacy and generally advocates for a nation run by and is mostly populated by whites. Some of the most common definitions provided by experts at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-Defamation League include any group that believes in the inferiority of nonwhites and opposition to multiculturalism.

One of these experts, Mark Potok, senior fellow at SPLC, says the term white nationalism means white domination. “White nationalism is the idea that whites should dominate,” he said, and believers support policies such as opposing non-white immigration. Potok also points out that contemporary white nationalists “tend to be less about ethnic slurs, less about Nazi slurs, [and] tend to speak more academic language.”

Miller squarely fits into Potok’s definition. Miller’s policies have an unrelenting focus on limiting and removing non-white immigrants from the U.S., reflecting the goals of white nationalists. Miller’s own statements have also walked up to the line, for example when he reportedly said, “I would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil.” 

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and reporters such as Luke Darby at GQ and Eric Levitz at New York Magazine, among others, have called Miller a white nationalist. And after the release of his emails, Omar tweeted, “As I said earlier this year: Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. And now we have the emails to prove it.” 

 Miller’s anti-immigrant, anti-diversity zeal has also been called out by those with past personal relationships to him. A 2018 profile of Miller revealed that as early as middle school, he told a friend that he could no longer be friends with him because the friend was Latino. Miller’s own uncle has publicly denounced him as “hypocrite” who “has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country” — referring to past U.S. policy that took in refugees like Miller’s ancestors. 

Miller’s childhood rabbi has also spoken against him. “The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my or our Jewish message,” Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels said during a Rosh Hashanah sermon that condemned family separations in 2018. “That notion is completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.”

Here are some of the lowlights of Miller’s connection to white nationalism:

  • White nationalists praise his work:  
    • The neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin praised Miller as “the last person in the White House that has any sense.”
    • Miller was a strong supporter of the RAISE Act, which a spokesman from the hate group Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) called “the sort of legal immigration reform that we’ve been calling for for a long time.” White nationalist Richard Spencer also said the bill “sounds awesome.” 
    • Spencer also asked, “Could Miller and Trump do good things for white Americans? The answer is yes.” 
    • The white nationalist David Duke has repeatedly took to Twitter to praise Miller, saying, for example, “I can’t help it. I like this guy.”
    • In August of 2017, Miller falsely argued that the poem on the Statue of Liberty was “added later” and therefore, does not reflect American values towards immigrants.  One white nationalist cheered, “Stephen Miller just echoed us on the Statue of Liberty.”
  • Miller supports hate group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS): Founded by a white nationalist, CIS has distributed white nationalist content over 2,000 times. Miller was the keynote speaker at a CIS award ceremony in May 2015 and has continued to cite their junk data while working at the White House. While working for Senator Sessions, Miller demonstrated close ties to CIS, sending Breitbart editors and CIS staff embargoed reports and other data.  
  • Miller has long-standing links to the hate group David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC): Led by its namesake, David Horowitz, a leading Islamophobe, the DHFC is known for its record of demonizing Muslims. In 2006, Miller participated in Horowitz’s first Academic Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. A year later, Miller again spoke at the event, which brought together elected officials and students. 
  • Miller worked with white nationalists and spread their ideas while in college at Duke University: While attending Duke University, Miller wrote a regular newspaper column where he regularly railed against feminism, multiculturalism, and immigration. He also worked with the white nationalist Richard Spencer to bring another prominent white nationalist, Peter Brimelow, to speak on campus in 2007.  Spencer also said he mentored Miller, but also admitted that he wanted to keep his relationship with Miller quiet. “I knew [Miller] very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one’s talked about this, because I don’t want to harm Trump,” he said. Peter Laufer, who knew both Miller and Spencer while at Duke, pointed out that their work “was not a one-off relationship.” 

Read a more detailed accounting of why Stephen Miller is a white nationalist here

More low-lights from Miller’s leaked emails promoting white nationalist websites 

On November 12, 2019, SPLC launched a new series of reports shedding light on Miller’s deep familiarity with and tendency to promote white nationalist content. SPLC obtained over 900 email documents between Miller; senior editors at Breitbart; and Katie McHugh, an editor for Breitbart from April 2014 to June 2017. McHugh, who was fired from Breitbart for Islamophobic tweets in 2017 but has since renounced her far-right views, forwarded SPLC her emails with Miller from March 4, 2015, to June 27, 2016. At the time, Miller was a senior aide to then-Senator Jeff Sessions and was transitioning to the Trump campaign team. 

In his emails to McHugh, Miller shared links from white nationalist websites like VDare and American Renaissance. He appeared to be deeply familiar with the ideas and authors on both cites, frequently sharing links shortly after they were posted to their respective sites. Miller’s name also appears on American Renaissance as an author when they reprinted an article Miller wrote in 2005. The emails reveal Miller’s thoughts, ideas, and reading history from the months before he joined the Trump campaign. This was a crucial moment, as it was shortly before Miller became notorious as a Trump staffer, and was one of the last times Miller allowed himself to speak freely.

As New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie writes

For three years, Miller has used his perch to inflict fear and anxiety on refugees, asylum-seekers and unauthorized immigrants. Maybe, if you were charitable to Miller and sympathetic to restricting immigration, you could frame this as a misguided but good faith attempt to pull back from a more liberal status quo. No longer. These emails show that Miller’s views flow from his commitment to racist exclusion and the protection of a white demographic majority.

Here are some of the major low-lights from Miller’s emails:

  • Miller promoted racist novel popular with white nationalists: In a September 2015 email, Miller promoted “Camp of the Saints” — a horrifically racist French novel that fictionalizes the “white genocide / great replacement” conspiracy theory that animates parts of white nationalism.  An English translation of the book is published by the Social Contract Press, which was founded by the late John Tanton — a white nationalist who helped found a network of anti-immigrant organizations including the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), both hate groups. Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon is also known to be a fan of the book.   
  • Miller lamented the removal of Confederate flags after racist terror attack:  In June 2015, Dylann Roof carried out a white nationalist terrorist attack, murdering nine churchgoers in South Carolina. Following the horrific act and national outcry, the Confederate battle flag was removed from the State capital building; it was first raised in 1961 in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. Miller was clearly not pleased with attacks on the racist symbol, even considering the recent racist violence.   
  • Miller praised Calvin Coolidge’s 1921 Immigration Act: Like his former boss Jeff Sessions, Miller is apparently a fan of Calvin Coolidge and the racially exclusionary Immigration Act of 1921 that the 30th president signed. The 1921 Act all but excluded immigrants from Asian nations and was praised by Hitler as the type of policy he sought to implement. In 2015 Miller wrote about Immigrant Heritage Month as, “a good opportunity to remind people about the heritage established by Calvin Coolidge”.
  • Miller apparently was in communication with leading Islamophobe: Miller suggested that he was in contact with and pitching political stories to leading Islamophobe Pamela Geller. Geller once falsely claimed  “Muslim immigration is tied directly to Islamic terror.”  
  • Miller cited biological racists to back his anti-immigrant ideas: Miller promoted the work of Jason Richwine, who had resigned from the Heritage Foundation after public outcry against his doctoral thesis that erroneously claimed Hispanic are less intelligent than whites. Richwine found a job at CIS, and Miller — apparently unconcerned with Richwine’s defense of biological racism  — continued to share his work.

Read a more detailed account of Miller’s leaked emails and why they matter, here. 

Stephen Miller in his own words

  • Miller said the family separation policy “was a simple decision.” 
  • “Am I the only one,” Miller asked in a campaign for his high school class government, “who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?”
  • “Continue to worship at the alter [sic] of multiculturalism and we may come to see that we are participating in the sacrifice of the one culture which binds us all.” Miller wrote in 2006 for the Duke University paper.
  • Miller wrote in 2006, “the Hollywood crowd feels sympathy for the terrorists, detests Republicans and sees America as an obstacle to a better world.”
  • “We saw ourselves as a kind of think tank for immigration issues and linking that to the larger questions of globalism and populism,” Miller said of his time working to push extreme anti-immigrant ideas with Sen. Jeff Sessions.
  • “There is no constitutional right for a citizen in a foreign country who has no status in America to demand entry into our country. Such a right cannot exist. Such a right will never exist,” Miller told ABC News in 2017

Stephen Miller lampooned in pop culture

Pop culture has not ignored the balding man in his mid-thirties with the cruelty streak of a cartoon villain. Here are few satirical takes on Stephen Miller: