Stephen Miller, the Architect of Trumps Immigration Plan
From One World Trade Center in Manhattan this is the New Yorker Radio hour a co-production wnyc studios and the New Yorker Welcome to the New Yorker Radio Hour. I'm David Ramnik. The United States is a nation of immigrants but it also has a long history of hostility to immigration in modern times. Certainly no president has taken on the Anti Immigration Mantle as assertively as Donald Trump during his first week in office he signed three executive orders on immigration to begin building the wall to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities and the order that became known as the Muslim ban which has just been expanded to prevent immigration from Nigeria and five other countries and there's also child separation the cancellation of Dhaka preventing asylum-seekers entry. These are all initiatives from the White House policy. Chief named Stephen Miller our opponents the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned or immigration reporter Jonathan Blitzer has profiled Miller in this week's issue of the New Yorker. John you write about a moment in two thousand thirteen the last time. That a comprehensive bipartisan immigration. Bill ever came before Congress and you describe in detail about how very young Capitol Hill. Aides still twenties named Stephen Miller when about sabotaging the process? So what happened. It's quite incredible. I mean now we think looking back we think would do. Democrats believe you know workable believe in workable solutions on immigration issues. So polarized how do we get both sides to come to some consensus state on the issue? That consensus existed in two thousand thirteen and the votes were there. What was the consensus I mean? It was rough outline sweeping comprehensive immigration reform. That would have granted a pathway to citizenship to a large chunk of the eleven million undocumented people living in the US in exchange for what we're fairly typical establishment kind of hardline compromises increased border security increased enforcement personnel Kind of tough on on illegal immigration kind of measures in exchange for a legalization program. So what roles. Eight like Stephen Miller plan and making it all crash and burn so at the time there were already the votes in the Senate To to pass the bill out of the Senate But sessions was in all the discussions as we're all of the Republicans at the time for the most part the hard line Republicans. We're thinking okay. We can't stop this bill from becoming law but we can try to get our our kind of key issues into it. Miller comes to the table as sessions communications staffer not as his policy person. And and the only thing that Miller is doing when he enters the room is he's listening into the conversations. He's cribbing what he can from the policy discussions and he's learning how to take some of those policy details out of context to pump them into talking points ahead. He do it. You know little things little details that that probably didn't even strike people in the room is being terribly consequential. At the time there was one measure. And this is a particularly dramatic. One where Marco Rubio? Who's one of the members of what was called the gang of Eight? Who were driving this this. This Reform Bill Rubio in a bid to show that he could be tough on crime along. The border proposed distributing cellphones to residents in the borderlands. So that they could call D H s with reports of criminality border crossings. Things like that. Miller takes that detail and turns it into what he called Amnesty phones for illegals and in the right wing media that crazy detail starts to circulate. Amnesty phones amnesty phones. Wow you actually can be eligible for a grant For a phone it looks like a two year grant program to receive a cellular phone and the articles this morning as you can imagine her fairly amusing move over Obama phone. This is the. This is the amnesty. So you know that's a. That's a ridiculous example. There are of course much more sort of piercing examples that really scare Republicans so for example. There's always this issue of how you gonNA deal with people who've committed crimes. Where do you draw the line in offering some sort of path legalisation for people with criminal records? So here's Crisco back when he was the Kansas Secretary of state in two thousand thirteen speaking very much in the same voice as Miller in opposition to that this administration has been drawing very strange line and saying we don't regard you as a criminal. We don't regard you as a threat to public safety until you've been convicted in a court of law. Merely being arrested for drunk driving or arrested for assaulting. A federal officer isn't enough and I think that's a really problematic line so by the time the bill passes out of the Senate and makes it into the House House. Republicans are thinking. Why on Earth would we get into this? So it's what we're saying is that a flak A flak for Jeff sessions played an important role in bringing a comprehensive immigration bill to cropper. That's right. He had just a total obsession with thinking that Bill. So the failure of that bill can be seen as a kind of turning point certainly in immigration reform and the whole drama after. Mitt Romney lost a two thousand twelve election. Barack Obama the Republican National Committee commissioned a report that warned that if the party did not embrace immigration reform it would keep on losing elections and four years later we have perhaps the most anti immigration president in the history of the country. What happened well. There's a key moment in between that from twenty twelve and the election of two thousand sixteen and that is in two thousand fifteen the Republicans take control of the Senate They have at this point sort of ridden. The tide of the tea party movement. The Anti Obama sentiment Sessions now Is in a position of more power than he ever was. And he and Miller in two thousand fifteen create a document Called an immigration handbook for the new Republican majority. And if you read that document now it's actually uncanny. How similar all the policy proposals are to the very things that trump campaigned on kind of playbook on immigration central Laibach. How did Stephen Miller find his way? Onto the trump campaign and trump circle. Trump was not an obvious candidate for members of the restriction of movement. All those guys love Ted Cruz. Initially no one took trump seriously and trump wasn't someone who actually had a vision on immigration. His his view of the issue was a kind of run of the mill. Illegal is bad legal. Fine and that that wrangled with the real kind of hardline true believers the Stephen Miller types but a key figure and all this was of course Steve Bannon who saw in trump A real spokesperson kind of charismatic. Lightning rod type figure. Who could help as he wants? Told Jeff sessions personify these issues for you and they can feed him his life because trump is soft clay in this way because he's you can manipulate him and get him to say what you need to to one degree. Yes but I also think that that would trump offered to them was really kind of visceral identification with costs. So when trump famously descends the elevator trump tower and talks about Mexican rapists. There it is. It's true and these are the best in the finest when Mexico sends his people. They're not sending their best. They're not sending you then sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They bring in drugs. They're bringing crime their rapists and some I assume good people but I speak divorce chilling to hear that even now after hearing countless times absolutely but you know even then as bald over the top is that rhetoric was immigration hardliners in the Republican Party didn't take trumbull that seriously for one thing he's launching this long shot presidential bid but what's more I at this point. They're still isn't clear. Language about what trump's immigration policy would actually look like and that language comes later in the campaign after Stephen Miller joins the campaign and becomes his principal speechwriter and in August of two thousand sixteen. Just a few months before the November election. Donald Trump gives a major immigration address in Phoenix Arizona. And that speech was written entirely by Stephen Miller. This will be a little bit different. This won't be a rally speech per se instead. I'm going to deliver a detailed policy address on one of the greatest challenges facing our country. Today illegal immigration. What was different about that speech? Why was it so important? There are two audiences for that speech. So this is only a few months before the election. You've got the Republican base. They WanNa hear roaring speech about immigration They want the kind of caustic language. That the president has used from day one and that's drawn them to in the first place and the president starts the speech by talking about immigrant. Crime he talks about the fact that because of the Obama Administration people have died in the. Us who didn't have to. I mean really the most extreme outlandish things I have met with many of the great parents who lost their children to sanctuary cities and open borders so many people so but then there's also this other audience for that speech and in this audience is basically people who are inside the Republican Party who are government officials who are hill staffers who are already on the conservative edge of the Republican Party when it comes to immigration and WHO WANNA be convinced that trump isn't just a big talker but there is actually an agenda that he will set in motion zero tolerance for criminal. Aliens is zero zero. And that's where in this speech. This ten point list that he starts to rattle off has the kind of focus in specificity. That immediately reaches this type of listener we will restore the highly successful secure communities program. Good program we will expand and revitalize popular to eighty seven g partnerships which will help to identify hundreds of thousands of deportable aliens in local. Jails that we don't even know about. I've spoken to a number of people Who very much were the intended audience of this speech. Who On hearing that ten point list said okay you know what in spite of my misgivings about trump? Like trump He seemed vulgar and obnoxious. He wasn't my type of politician but no one else in the Republican Party and obviously the Democratic Party has ever come so close to articulating such specific policy positions on the hard line of immigration policy. That we'RE GONNA WE'RE GONNA cast our lot with this guy these ten steps if rigorously followed. An enforced will accomplish more in a matter of months then. Our politicians have accomplished on this issue in the last fifty years with a happened. Is there any way of knowing how important Stephen Miller? And Stephen Miller's influence was on the two thousand sixteen election victory for Donald Trump. Think this way there has never been an American president who built his campaign around the issue of Immigration and later one on that campaign on immigration. And so it's not a surprise that you basically see the administration right now prosecuting. Its immigration agenda as though it's still campaigning. The idea of immigration policy and campaign rhetoric or one in the same these guys and that is a mark of how influential successful Miller was in two thousand sixteen. Thank you thank you. GotTa take our country back. This is a movement. We're going to take our country back. I'm talking with the New Yorkers Jonathan Blitzer. John has profile in the magazine of Stephen Miller. The policy adviser who is widely regarded as the architect of Donald Trump's immigration platform. And in a moment we'll continue with millers influence on the two thousand twenty campaign this is the New Yorker Radio Hour stick around you're listening to the New Yorker Radio Hour and I'm David Ramnik. We're talking today about the enormously influential. White House adviser Stephen Miller who's far right. Wing views on immigration have become absolutely mainstream in the trump administration. The New Yorkers Jonathan Blitzer has written a thorough and important account of Stephen Miller his rise and his role in the White House John. What's the relationship like between trump and Miller? What I've always heard is that they kind of this. Good cop bad cop sort of relationship. That trump really exactly. It's it's a suspenseful question I think for the most part trump likes to say you know. I'd be open to this thing but Steven Steven would never go for it. And that's kind of the Dynamic and allows these seventy odd year. Old President is trying to make sure that he's policing the young aide in his thirties. You know it's something that Miller for all of his bravado is actually very careful about he he knows that the kiss of death and this administration is to be identified as the brains behind the man. you know he he can't let on that. He is the one who effectively manipulating trump on these issues. Back in November. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a collection of emails. That Miller had exchanged some editors at Breitbart those emails from Two Thousand Fifteen to twenty sixteen included links to white supremacist websites and novels. Do you think Miller's policies are influenced by that kind of raw ideology? I think yes. He denies it. Of course I think what specifically alarming about what came through. Those emails was one his source material. Who is reading? He's reading actual white. Supremacist websites that pedal the view that the you know the white population in the US is being overtaken that you know the idea of diversity in the US is tantamount to hordes cultural surrender. Did Miller suffer any consequences? After the email dump seems not none. This is one of the surreal aspects of covering this administration in the broader public. Of course it was national news. I think in the White House. This was not really an issue at all for all the noise about many issues including the wall build the wall. Since trump took office w-what concrete changes has made to our immigration system. How is it markedly different? Well for one thing. He is effectively ended the practice of asylum at the US southern border which the US is obviously always seen in a bipartisan way. As a key part of its identity. He's completely slashed the refugee program in the last year of Obama's presidency for example the US vowed to to resettle one hundred ten thousand immigrants a year under trump. The number is now eighteen thousand And so he's really dismantled kind of the whole of the asylum and refugee program and through rules and regulations and a lot of obscure technical stuff. the White House is essentially redefined. Who can qualify for legal residency in the US? I think Miller was behind the trump administration's child separation policy the most controversial thing of all in. He apparently advocated for ice officers to Yank children out of school and in December. He instituted plans to use unaccompanied migrant children as bait as bait to catch their undocumented parents. Why the focus on children? Well Miller's view is an extreme manifestation of what had always been a certain establishment position in some ways which was border policy is GonNa help the US control even who makes the trip to the US. And so for years from the George W Bush years through the Obama years there was a thing that the Department of Homeland Security and an Orwellian way called the consequence delivery system. And the idea was if you treat people harshly enough at the border you sent a deterrent message. Throughout the region Miller is so obsessed with the idea of punishing people at the border itself it becomes an end itself and so his actual thinking on for example. The treatment of immigrant children is if you treat children badly enough in theory may be. You can scare parents away from ever traveling with their kids. Were sending their kids once they arrive in the US. As Adam Serwer once wrote in the Atlantic The cruelty is the policy. That's right the cruelty is the point. That's right and you know early on. Even people like Lindsey Graham. Who at the time was seen as a moderate? Republican bellwether in Congress recoiled from a lot of the positions. That were propounded by Stephen Miller. The reason we yank these things back is because Mr Miller known for a long time. I know he's Passion. I know is an early support the President I'll just say his view of immigration has never been in the mainstream the Senate and I think we're going never gonNA get there as long as we embrace concept's that that cannot possibly sixty one of the concepts that I just completely reject as. We have too much legal immigration. That was Lindsey Graham speaking in early two thousand eighteen. He has since become one of the president's most vocal defenders Congress so much of what Miller proposes seems legislatively inconceivable at were just totally outside the mainstream long past any boundary of thought. What's the purpose of pushing such extreme immigration platforms? What what's in it for trump well for Miller standpoint there to gains For trump in in taking that approach the first is the conversation has shifted wealth. The right of where it's ever been and second congress no longer has the power to legislate given how polarized Washington is and so for someone like Miller. Why bother trying to water down A BILL IN ORDER TO LURE MODERATES Into voting for if there's never going to be a vote on any of these policies if the politics are too intractable to begin with then. Why don't you just enunciate your principles? This Miller's thinking. Enunciate your principles clearly. Don't apologize for them and push in other ways and I think that's really been the approach that we've seen and it's frankly it's the scariest fact of his of his agenda. Now that in the absence of Congress you basically have the executive which has wide latitude to to exercise its discretion on immigration policy doing whatever it wants and increasingly now. The courts are starting to buckle. I mean at this point. The president has appointed more than one hundred eighty new judges to the federal judiciary a lot of in the past. The nationwide injunctions immediately blocked some of trump's most aggressive immigration policies are being lifted by some of his own appointees at higher appellate levels judiciary. And so I think Miller's view is look. We're playing the long game. This is a fight. Let's let's do get out. And of course that will that phenomenon. Moly increase radically if Donald Trump is reelected in twenty twenty one person to rival Stephen Miller for power and access in the White House is Jared Kushner. Who's been circulating a six hundred? Page merit-based Immigration Bill and I wonder how aligned Kushner and Miller are on immigration. So Jared Kushner didn't wade into the space of immigration policy by choice. The president asked him to spearhead this effort to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform plan. And so the plant itself is the plan of someone who is generally moderate on immigration. But who is taking the temperature of the Republican caucus in Congress and obviously the White House to for Miller's view There is on the one hand a lot to like in Kushner. Six hundred page immigration bill namely the fact that legal immigration is on the table. Which is something that was inconceivable. Just a few years ago and yet on the other hand there are some causes for concern for Miller that are in the bill namely that the overall number of legal immigrants would be allowed into. The country doesn't change and so for someone like Miller who wants the net number of people entering the country to go down every year. This bill might be too moderate for his tastes. Are they buddy? There they get along really well And they were policies concerned. Make these situational alliances. They never say anything bad about the other person which is something that in trump's Washington is more or less unheard of and they are kind of muddling through together so this summer the this is. This is extremely important this summer. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the administration can cancel Daca. What's Miller's plan? If this happens this is probably the most alarming prospect It really looks like an ones obviously hesitant to prognosticate and try to predict how the justices will rule but it really does look like based on the oral argument that the justices are pretty skeptical of the argument. The administration doesn't have the ability or the legal authority to cancel Daca so it seems likely that that program might be a threat under threat. Is there an implication for the election? There is and I think what Miller will do is Miller will seize on that that ruling to push all of the most extreme things that he has ever wanted and so one person said to me. Look if you thought Miller is bad in early two thousand eighteen you're GONNA see that times ten and and but that's a winner for them. I understand why to winner for the base is a winner for all those contested counties in the states that we know by heart As the crucial states in a November election. It's interesting I think that if you're a congressional Republican this is just a huge headache for you. You don't WanNa have to go on the record one way or the other. You don't want to buck the president's position because the president so popular with the Republican base but dreamers as we all know at this point are hugely popular in a bipartisan way across the country and so why go after them At a moment when your own political future is is at issue I basically the White House doesn't particularly care about Congressional Republicans. I think this is what's in the best interest of the White House at least as White. House senior adviser see it and so they're going to charge ahead and Miller is gonNA essentially use the population of dreamers affected by the Supreme Court ruling as hostages in a series of negotiations that he is going to force down the throats of Democrats on the hill and he is basically going to say through it. All on the president's GonNa say through it. All the Democrats have an opportunity to help. Save these DACA kids and they're not gonNA take it. Jonathan Blitzer thanks so much thanks. Jonathan Blitzer Profile of Stephen Miller is available now on New Yorker Dot Com. I'm David Ramnik. Thanks for listening today. Please join US next time for the New Yorker Radio The New Yorker Radio Hour is a co production of WNYC studios and the New Yorker. Our theme music was composed performed by Merrill Garbis of tune yards with additional music by Alexis quadrant. This episode was produced by Alex Barron. Emily Boutin Ave correo Rianne. Corby Cala Leah David Krosno Carolina. 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