Our reporter Zolan Kanno-Youngs interviewed more than a dozen of Biden’s transition advisers and current and former Department of Homeland Security officials, looking for clues as to what priorities the new administration will bring to the department.
Zolan answered a few questions about what he had discovered.
Donald Trump focused much of his 2016 campaign on immigration issues, and many of his key initiatives as president were led by the Department of Homeland Security. How has Trump affected the ministry’s mission and its day-to-day operations? Would you say he was successful in achieving his political goals?
President Trump has had a huge impact on the Department of Homeland Security. The president focused his campaign on the border wall and restricting immigration to the United States, and these themes carried over to his tenure. The department was created after the attacks of September 11, 2001 with a wide range of responsibilities, responding to natural disasters, terrorism and threats to aviation, maritime security and cybersecurity.
But for much of his tenure, Trump has had one simple measure of success for the agency: reducing the number of illegal border crossings and building his wall. He removed his secretaries from trips to discuss other security matters at the last minute to discuss (and sometimes criticize) the border. He has repeatedly asked how fast they are building the wall, siphoning billions of dollars from the Defense Department in the process and ordering his officials to sue the private landowners.
And while the wall is not built from sea to shining sea, Trump has undoubtedly changed the U.S. immigration system. A maze of policies has created an “invisible wall”, limiting the ability of asylum seekers to stay in the country. The refugee system has been gutted. And when he refocused his campaign against protesters to present himself as a president of “law and order,” he turned to DHS again. Most of the tactical agents sent to Portland to confront the protesters were from the department.
Immigrant rights activists and supporters have long called for the dismantling of immigration and customs enforcement, which is housed within DHS. Are such ideas something that President Biden will entertain?
No. The president-elect has never called for the abolition of any of these agencies. Also don’t expect the new president to move DHS agencies to other departments (the Trump administration has offered to move the Secret Service to the Treasury, and there have been calls for Biden to consider moving. citizenship and immigration services, the country’s legal immigration agency, at the Ministry of Justice).