Our reporter Zolan Kanno-Youngs interviewed over a dozen Biden transition advisers and current and former officials at the Department of Homeland Security, seeking clues into what priorities the incoming administration will bring to the department.
Zolan answered a few questions about what he found out.
Donald Trump centered much of his 2016 campaign on immigration issues, and many of his major initiatives as president ran through the Department of Homeland Security. How much of an effect did Trump have on the department’s mission and its day-to-day operations? Would you say he’s been successful at carrying out his policy goals?
President Trump has had immense impact on the Department of Homeland Security. The president centered his campaign on the border wall and restricting immigration into the United States, and those themes carried over to his term in office. The department was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with a broad array of responsibilities, responding to natural disasters, terrorism and threats to aviation, maritime security and cybersecurity.
But for much of his term, Trump has had a simple measure of success for the agency: lowering the number of illegal crossings at the border and building his wall. He has pulled his secretaries away from trips to discuss other security matters at the last minute to discuss (and at times berate about) the border. He repeatedly questioned how fast they were constructing the wall, siphoning billions from the Defense Department in the process and directing his officials to file lawsuits against private landowners.
And while the wall is not built from sea to shining sea, Trump has without a doubt changed the U.S. immigration system. A maze of policies have created an “invisible wall,” restricting the ability of asylum seekers to remain in the country. The refugee system has been gutted. And when he refocused his campaign against protesters to frame himself as a “law and order” president, he turned to D.H.S. again. Many of the tactical agents sent to Portland to clash with demonstrators were from the department.
Activists and proponents of immigrants’ rights have long called for the dismantling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is housed within D.H.S. Are such ideas something that a President Biden will entertain?
No. The president-elect has never called for abolishing any of those agencies. Don’t expect the new president to move any D.H.S. agencies to other departments, either (The Trump administration proposed moving the Secret Service to Treasury, and there have been calls for Biden to consider moving Citizenship and Immigration Services, the nation’s legal immigration agency, to the Justice Department).