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Though Stephen Miller’s xenophobia is common among his far-right contacts, it’s his determination to apply his ideas that separates himself from other hard-line supporters of severe immigration restrictions. According to a report on Sunday from the New York Times, Miller has been researching opportunities to find a public-health excuse to restrict immigration since he first joined the administration. And with the current pandemic, he has found his corona-shape solution.
According to the report, Miller has been scouring through the entire federal code looking for provisions that would allow Trump to legally halt immigration to the United States. He’s certainly showed creativity, reportedly proposing that traffickers transporting migrants across the border be designated as terrorists so that the U.S. could deny entry to asylum-seekers on the grounds that they aided a foreign terrorist organization.
As he enacted child separation and pushed to suppress information that showed refugees have a net positive impact on government revenue, Miller also looked for opportunities to use the broad executive authority surrounding public health to restrict immigration. Last year, he attempted to curtail entry following a mumps outbreak in detention facilities in six states. In 2018, he attempted a similar feat when dozens of migrants got sick in federal custody. Despite allegations that the illnesses were caused by negligent Customs and Border Patrol care, Miller — practiced in the racist idea that immigrants are vectors for the spread of disease — claimed the local outbreak could be grounds for the president to close the border.
Although Miller and Trump were reportedly dissuaded from these options by “cabinet secretaries and lawyers who argued that the public-health situation at the time did not provide sufficient legal basis,” COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to dampen immigration without facing the public outrage that followed Miller’s child-separation policy. According to three former officials who spoke with the Times, the legal work to justify potential decisions made during the pandemic has been “repurposed from old draft executive orders and policy discussions that have taken place repeatedly since Mr. Trump took office.”
As the pandemic kills thousands of Americans every week, Miller is looking to reshape immigration policy with a focus that the Trump administration has been unable to attain on most of its policy fronts:
The coronavirus pandemic has created an opening for some of Mr. Miller’s other longstanding policy goals, such as finding a way to quickly deport children who travel to the United States without a parent or other adult. Mr. Miller considered that category of migrants among the most difficult to stop, said one official who had discussed it with him, because the young people are protected legally by substantial due process requirements designed to ensure that deportation would not place them in harm’s way.
Since border crossings were scaled back under the coronavirus restrictions, even unaccompanied children and teenagers have been turned away.
Meanwhile, Miller is reportedly pushing for the extended detainment of unaccompanied migrant children, requiring them to be held in CBP custody rather than transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which would eventually find sponsors if the children had family within the states. And to help prohibit this resettlement process, Miller is reportedly advocating that any sponsors in the program get fingerprinted, making it less likely for undocumented family members to pursue custody.
Still, Miller’s success has been limited. Though the president warned of a total immigration ban “to protect our U.S. workers” on April 20, that was watered down to an executive order freezing the issuance of green cards for 60 days. But the White House adviser is still thinking big: To help achieve his goals, the Times reports that Miller is lobbying for the administration to invoke the Insurrection Act. Dating back to 1807, the law allows the military to be deployed in times of civil unrest; Miller’s plan is to then send troops to the border to prevent migrant entry.