When the White House held a series of meetings last year to discuss how to deal with nations that refuse to take back their citizens whom the U.S. is trying to deport, one voice in the room was louder than all the others: Stephen Miller.It was odd that Miller, a powerful senior policy adviser to President Donald Trump focused on slashing immigration to America, was even there.
The issue of so-called recalcitrant countries has traditionally been handled by the National Security Council, in part because it overlaps with sensitive foreign relations matters, such as fighting terrorism — and Miller is not a part of the NSC.
But, Miller, who recently turned 33, led several of the meetings. And he would launch the sessions with horror stories about Americans being victimized by noncitizens, such as a 25-year-old Connecticut woman stabbed to death by a Haitian man who should have been deported earlier. The tone left some in the room feeling anxious about trying to argue against him, according to current and former U.S. officials.
“‘What are we doing to save American lives? We must save American lives! We must save Americans from these immigrant criminals!’” a former NSC official recalled Miller saying in one session. “He would tell these stories to make it clear there was no room for anything other than to come down hard on these countries, even if we had other national security interests to consider.”
Miller’s hard-charging approach to the discussion offers a glimpse into just one of the many tactics — psychological and otherwise — he has used to secure an iron grip on Trump’s immigration policies, surviving blowups such as the initial blowback over the president’s travel ban and the more recent fracas over the migrant family separation policy.
One major reason Miller remains a powerful player on immigration is that he’s so close to Trump, who agrees with many of his hard-line views. But according to nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials and others who deal with migration, Miller also has managed to set the agenda on Trump’s signature campaign issue through another quality: sheer bureaucratic cunning.