Trump’s Pick to Run Refugee Program Is a Fellow at Anti-Immigrant Group

Demonstrators protest President Trump’s attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President Trump on Thursday nominated Ronald Mortensen, a vocal critic of undocumented immigrants, to serve as assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

The Utah native is the founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration and serves as a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies. The group, which says its mission is to highlight the negative effects of legal and illegal immigration, is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mortensen currently serves as a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigrant hate group that’s part of a network founded by white nationalist John Tanton. The Center for Immigration Studies is well known for producing shoddy research that demonizes immigrants with falsehoods. While he’s been there, Mortensen has played a role in exaggerating — against all evidence — a link between immigration and crime.

In 2017, Mortensen wrote about this link in a column for The Hill. The headline: “Most illegal aliens routinely commit felonies.” The felonies Mortensen was referring to were not the grisly sort Trump prefers to highlight, but rather largely paperwork-related.

Mortensen has also been highly critical of Dreamers since DACA was announced in 2012. He insists that Dreamers are not the “sympathetic young people” they’re often made out to be.

“It is important to remember that DACA applies to individuals up to age 31. The result is that many adult Dreamers have long since terminated their studies, and many have committed serious felonies that impact American men, women, and children,” he wrote in The Hill last year.

In his writing, Mortensen frequently refers to the “myth of the noble, law-abiding illegal alien.” He has accused undocumented immigrants of “destroying the lives of American men, women, and children.” And now Trump wants him to lead the federal agency whose mission is to “provide protection, ease suffering, and resolve the plight of persecuted and uprooted people around the world.”

Immigration-rights advocates have been quick to criticize Mortensen’s appointment. “It’s pretty clear that he really doesn’t use facts about immigration when he’s talking about his extremely anti-immigrant agenda,” Luis Garza, executive director of a Utah-based Latino outreach organization, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “ I think it’s very concerning for somebody like him to be in such an important position that works with immigrants and refugees.”

Frank Sharry, founder of the pro-immigrant group America’s Voice, told ABC News that Mortensen’s appointment would be akin to putting white supremacist Richard Spencer in charge of the Department of Justice’s civil-rights unit. “It’s not the fox guarding the chicken coop,” Sharry said. “It’s a monster in charge of the chicken coop.”

Ultimately though, it’s the opinions of the U.S. Senate that matter most here as Mortensen will need to be confirmed before he assumes a post at the State Department.

Trump Picks Fellow at Anti-Immigrant Group for Refugee Job