As he threatens to shut down the southern border, President Donald Trump is considering bringing on a "border'' or "immigration czar'' to coordinate immigration policies across various federal agencies, according to four people familiar with the discussions.
Trump is weighing at least two potential candidates for the post: Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — two far-right conservatives with strong views on immigration, according to the people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations publicly.
The planning comes as Trump is threatening anew to close the U.S.-Mexico border as soon as this week if Mexico does not completely halt illegal immigration into the U.S. And it serves as the latest sign that the president plans to continue to hammer his hardline immigration rhetoric and policies as he moves past the special counsel's Russia investigation and works to rally his base heading into his 2020 re-election campaign.
Aides hope the potential appointment, which they caution is still in the planning stages, would be the administration's new "face'' of the immigration issue and would placate both the president and his supporters, showing he is serious about the issue and taking action.
White House press aides, Kobach and Cuccinelli did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment. Kobach previously served as vice chair of the president's short-lived election fraud commission, which was disbanded after finding little evidence of widespread fraud.
Trump has often complained, both publicly and privately, about how he has not been able to do more to stop the tide of illegal immigration, which he has likened to an "invasion'' and labeled a national security crisis. Arrests along the southern border have skyrocketed in recent months and border agents are now on track to make 100,000 arrests or denials of entry there this month. More than half are families with children.
Trump in December forced a government shutdown to try to pressure Congress to provide more money for his long-promised border wall and eventually signed an emergency declaration to circumvent them. He also moved Saturday to cut direct aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where citizens are fleeing north and overwhelming U.S. resources at the southern border.
That focus on immigration has touched on numerous government agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, State, Defense and Justice. But not all of those departments are always on the same page.
One of the most glaring examples came last summer, when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions instituted a "zero tolerance'' policy at the border without consulting others that caused a spike in the number of migrant children separated from their families.
The separated children were placed in HHS custody, but there was no tracking system in place to link parents with their children until a federal judge ordered one, causing widespread fear and concern about whether families would ever see each other again. Homeland Security also has to coordinate with the Pentagon on space to detain migrants as well as on wall funding.
It has yet to be decided whether the czar position, if Trump goes through with the plan, would be housed within Homeland Security or within the White House, which would not require Senate confirmation.
A person positioned within the White House could coordinate immigration policy across various agencies, working closely with aides who are deeply involved in immigration policy, including Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner, national security adviser John Bolton and Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary.
Appointing a person who is based within Homeland Security could be trickier because the department's agency heads are all Senate-confirmed positions and, in the case of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, are longtime immigration officials with decades of experience dealing with the border.
While immigration officials would welcome an adviser focused specifically on policy across the varying agencies, the names being floated are likely to spark backlash and criticism.
Kobach, an immigration hardliner, ran a failed bid for governor promising to drive immigrants living in the U.S. illegally out of the country and has recently been working for a nonprofit corporation, WeBuildtheWall Inc., which has been raising private money to build Trump's wall. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, has advocated for denying citizenship to American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally, limiting in-state tuition at public universities only to those who are citizens or legal residents, and allowing workers to file lawsuits when an employer knowingly hires someone living in the country illegally for taking a job from a "law abiding competitor.''
Thomas Homan, the former acting ICE director, has also been mentioned as a potential pick, according to one of the people familiar with the talks.