If President Donald Trump’s administration has been playing a game of Survivor, then Stephen Miller’s torch is still blazing brightly.
In the wake of several major personnel decisions over the past week — including the departures of former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former Secret Service director Randolph “Tex” Alles, as well as Ronald Vitello, Trump’s nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Miller’s star is clearly on the rise.
With Trump’s approval, Miller, the president’s senior policy adviser, is reportedly cleaning house of all officials who don’t share his extreme anti-immigration views, leaving him to oversee all matters of immigration himself.
Miller was the mastermind behind the White House’s horrific family separation policy, and not only does he wish to revive it, he wants to do even more. According to Politico, Miller wants to set up more tent cities to house migrants at the border, detain migrant children longer than the 20-day limit imposed by a federal judge, and force families to choose between being separated from their children or being detained indefinitely. That’s to say nothing of threats Trump has already made to deny asylum claims, impose tariffs on Mexico, and/or completely close the southern border — drastic, unprecedented actions that would have significant economic and civil rights implications.
There seems to be a mixed reaction to Miller among Trump’s Republican supporters in Congress. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said Tuesday he hopes Trump is hearing from people other than Miller, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) mocked Miller for not accomplishing anything.
“I hope he’s got more voices than that one in his ear because it’s important to get a full perspective and range of opinions,” Thune says of Stephen Miller
Are there other people Trump should be listening to?
“Well, some of them are already gone,” he chuckles
— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) April 9, 2019
— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) April 9, 2019
But when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) described Miller, who is Jewish, as a white nationalist on Twitter Monday — an objective description based on things he’s said or done over the years — Republicans like Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), Trump, and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., accused her of being anti-Semitic.
Omar’s description of Miller is rooted in facts. He has reportedly said he would be happy “if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America’s soil,” despite being a descendant of refugees himself. In college, he organized an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” to educate students about the “holy war being waged against us.” He allegedly ended a friendship with high school friend, Jason Islas, because of Islas’ Latinx heritage. And when the “zero tolerance” policy at the border took effect, a White House aide claimed, “Stephen actually enjoys seeing those pictures at the border,” referring to images of families being torn apart.
Since stepping into his role in the White House, Miller has also had a hand in a number of harsh immigration policies and is thought to have been behind several anti-immigrant executive orders, including Trump’s 2017 travel ban, which targeted citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries. By September of Trump’s first year in office, Miller had also reportedly convinced the president — singlehandedly — to limit the number of refugees allowed into the United States.
“He shut down the U.S. government’s democratic approach to decision-making,” a State Department official told The New Yorker that year. “He suppressed evidence that was important to consider in determining a refugee number that would be beneficial to our national-security interest. We’re not talking about reports written by outside groups. We’re talking about evidence being generated from within the federal bureaucracy, documents generated from within the government.”
Miller famously came under fire in August 2017, following a fiery exchange with CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Acosta had asked Miller whether restricting immigration to those who spoke English fluently, as the Trump administration had proposed, was in line with the words on the Statue of Liberty.
“What the president is proposing here does not sound like it’s in keeping with American tradition when it comes to immigration,” Acosta said. “The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.'”
Miller responded that Acosta was wrong because the poem to which the reporter was referring had not been installed on the statue itself until years after its construction and therefore could not be symbolic of the country’s values on immigration.
“I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and lighting the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world,” Miller said. “The poem that you’re referring to, that was added later, is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.”
While many noted that Miller was technically correct, others pointed out his remarks were a common refrain among white nationalists, like former KKK leader David Duke, who once complained that the author of that poem, Emma Lazarus, had been “anxious to turn America into a refuge for the castoffs of the world.”
Miller’s troubling ascension has not gone unnoticed, which could lead to new scrutiny regarding the direction he plans to take the administration. Tuesday morning, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) was even teasing Miller and his supporters that elsewhere in the White House, Jared Kushner appeared to be making it easier to immigrate to the United States, rather than impossible as Miller would prefer it.
This week, The New Republic dubbed the Trump administration “The Stephen Miller Presidency,” concluding Trump intends to make immigration a key issue in his 2020 bid for reelection, leaning into Miller’s extremism to appeal to his base. With multiple senior positions that oversee immigration now lacking any Senate-confirmed appointees, Miller is poised to make real anti-immigration policy as yet unimagined in the 21st century. It remains to be seen whether Congress or the courts will be able to exercise any accountability over his unchecked ascent.