A record five people so far have served as impeached president Donald Trump’s acting or confirmed Homeland Security secretary, but one person has really been in charge the entire time: Stephen Miller, senior adviser to the president. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, we’re seeing more results of what happens when the reins of government are handed over to a 34-year-old whose sole mission in public service has to make his white supremacist radicalism the official policy of the United States.
“The government agencies designed to protect us are riddled with vacancies and temporary officials. No wonder we’re facing a catastrophe,” Politico notes. It’s cost 14,000 lives in the U.S. so far, and it’s going to keep claiming more—not only in our homes and communities, but in our detention facilities and at our borders. These are places where Miller isn’t just continuing his anti-immigrant crusade: he’s using this public health crisis to escalate it to cruel new levels.
Take detention. While county jails across the U.S. have released thousands of people in response to the novel coronavirus, immigrant rights advocates have struggled to force Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release people, including children and their parents, from detention facilities where recent lawsuits have said detainees sleep in cramped conditions within arm’s reach of each other, lack adequate access to medical care, soap, and even toilet paper, and have been pepper-sprayed for protesting their ongoing detention.
This week, ICE said it would consider releasing 600 people “who may be vulnerable” to the novel coronavirus from custody, but this is just throwing advocates some crumbs: As of the end of March, there were more than 35,000 people in ICE custody. Nearly 6,000 of these detainees are asylum-seekers who passed their initial interview, and who under previous administrations likely wouldn’t be in detention in the first place. Not so under Miller and Trump. Asylum-seekers who likely wouldn’t have been jailed then have instead died in custody.
ICE is also refusing to press pause on its mass deportation agenda amid the pandemic, keeping up its raids during California’s shelter-in-place policy—“and using precious N95 masks to do so,” The Guardian reports. “The protective masks Ice agents carried to raid communities in LA are the same personal protective equipment that made headlines in the last week due to extreme shortages endangering the lives of healthcare workers.” In fact, ICE was widely condemned for an order it put out for 45,000 masks amid this medical gear shortage, which it then cancelled under congressional pressure. ICE can be shamed. Not always, but every now and then.
But by far the cruelest and most horrific attacks by Miller—who was a child bully of Latino and Asian students, former classmates told Univision back in 2017—have continued to be reserved for the youngest and most vulnerable. The Washington Post reports the Trump administration has used the pandemic to implement “emergency powers” and shut down the southern border, “suspending laws that protect minors and asylum seekers so that the U.S. government can immediately deport them or turn them away.”
”The most immediate impacts are that migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border are no longer taken to border stations where they would have the chance to file a claim for humanitarian protection and access to U.S. immigration courts, and some unaccompanied minors who typically would receive protection and shelter also are being turned away,” the report continued. Reuters reports nearly 400 kids have been cast out so far, deported back to forced gang membership, back to violence, back to possible death.
Meanwhile, the damage from policies like family separation remain raw two years later, following a recent report that continued to expose officials’ callous cruelty in tearing children from parents without any thought about how they would be reunited. Remember the pain of those children certainly continues, and remember Miller reportedly said he enjoyed it. “Connect the dots,” tweeted immigrant rights advocate Frank Sharry. “Stephen Miller is the de facto head of DHS: ICE keeping detainees in a death trap, sending back kids fleeing violence without a hearing, ICE enforcement ongoing, admissions and citizenship stopped. Blood on his hands.”