April 17, 2019

Don’t Count on DHS to Resist Trump’s Worst Impulses

Trump is in the midst of a purge at the Department of Homeland Security, evidently aimed at implementing more severe immigration and border security policies. Last week he ousted Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and followed by firing or threatening to fire other top figures in the department, even forcing out the department’s next-in-line in order to install his preferred choice. Recent reporting suggests one of the next targets will be the department’s general counsel, a serious Senate-confirmed professional, showing that Trump is concentrating on lowering DHS’s legal compliance and removing the guardrails that have constrained his immigration actions thus far.

This isn’t the first time Trump has tried to bend a federal law enforcement agency to his will. Since he took office, Trump has beat up on the Department of Justice and the FBI in an attempt to derail the Russia investigation and direct officials instead to investigate his political enemies. But even though he managed to push out several high profile figures—notably, FBI director Jim Comey—most of his efforts backfired spectacularly, and the rule of law held. The special counsel completed its investigation. In the end, Trump has not been able to subjugate DOJ and the FBI to his own whims and desires.

Will DHS, too, be able to resist White House pressure to break or bend the law? Don’t count on it. Given the administration’s track record and the unique history and characteristics of DHS, there are reasons to worry that DHS is more vulnerable to manipulation than other law enforcement agencies. And, its performance over the last year, in which it has been willing to implement the president’s travel ban, his family separation policy and increase deportations for a wider array of illegal residents who otherwise pose no threat to society, underscore its malleability.

Read the full article in POLITICO Magazine.