Mark Morgan, a veteran FBI agent who was in charge of the US Border Patrol during the final days of the Obama administration, has been chosen by President Trump to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Mark is a true believer and American patriot,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “He will do a great job!”
I am pleased to inform all of those that believe in a strong, fair and sound Immigration Policy that Mark Morgan will be joining the Trump Administration as the head of our hard working men and women of ICE. Mark is a true believer and American Patriot. He will do a great job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
Morgan will lead ICE, a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella responsible for, as Vox’s Dara Lind has explained, “identifying, detaining, and deporting people in the US who have violated immigration law.”
Trump had nominated his former acting ICE chief, Ron Vitiello, to lead the agency, but withdrew that nomination last month, saying Vitiello was no longer a good fit because “we’re going in a tougher direction.”
As the leader of US Border Patrol, Morgan was criticized by the union representing border patrol officers for being unsuited to executing President Trump’s vision for the US/Mexico border.
In November 2016, the executive board of that union wrote an op-ed for the far-right website Breitbart calling Morgan a “disgrace,” citing, in particular, a Congressional testimony during which he said supported immigration reform. In 2017, Morgan said he was asked by his superiors to leave his post as Border Patrol chief, and he ultimately resigned.
More recently, Morgan has made it clear he is onboard with Trump’s immigration policies.
In mid-April, Morgan appeared on Fox News, and was vocal in his support for Trump’s plan to send detained immigrants to “sanctuary cities,” or cities that have said they will not cooperate with federal immigration officials.
“I’ve been there,” Morgan said. “The border patrol, ICE, their facilities are overwhelmed, the faith-based organizations and other non-governmental organizations are overwhelmed. They have no choice. They’re going to have to start pushing these individuals out. Shouldn’t we kind of share the burden throughout the country?”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in early April, Morgan explained what he thought the president meant by “a tougher direction.”
“Here’s phase one of what ‘tougher’ looks like, in my opinion,” Morgan said. “They have to stop expecting that Congress is going to do their job. In the immediate, we have to do something — even if we lose in the courts, we still gotta do something to stop the incentive [to immigrate].”
Trump has recently purged a number of Homeland Security officials, including Vitello and former Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote last month about the purge:
All of this adds up, in theory, to an even harder line from the White House on immigration. But what it amounts to in practice is not clear.
Trump is upset that his administration is not halting the flow of asylum seekers. But his only alternative to his own failed tough policies is to say that we need tough policies. So officials are being fired for no clear reason. (Trump’s only idea for negotiating with either congressional Democrats or other regional governments is more bluster.)
The president is frustrated about how little progress he’s making on a signature issue, but also apparently unwilling to try to resolve that frustration by actually doing anything different.
Whether Morgan will be able to execute on Trump’s vision remains to be seen, although his recent rhetoric suggests he is more than willing to give doing so his best effort. Before he can take command of ICE, however, he must be formally nominated to the post, and be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.