USCIS Records of Communications Regarding Family Separation

Communications of Senior Officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding family separation and immigration. The records include emails and a draft document discussing early proposals related to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers.


In these records:

Pages 32–33: On March 30, 2018, Marguerite Telford, director of communications for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), wrote to White House officials Theodore Wold and John Zadrozny about the so-called “migrant caravans” approaching the U.S. southern border. Telford asked: “I have heard that the 1000-1500 Central Americans headed this way are being trained on what to say (credible fear) to be allowed entry. Who is funding this?” 

Telford wrote: “CBP and USCIS asylum officers will be the first contact. I am sure Cissna is on top of this . . . we are screening every person? Obama would have waved them in!”

Minutes after Telford’s email, USCIS Director Lee Francis Cissna replied to Zadrozny and USCIS staffers Kathy Nuebel Novarik, Craig Symons, and Robert Law: “Yes, there is a 1,500+ person ‘refugee caravan’ from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador that is expected to reach the U.S. border at various California Ports of Entry in early April.” Francis then shares a video posted by a Facebook group for an organization called Pueblo Sin Fronteras.

Pages 147–148: In emails dated Aug. 9, 2018, Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for CIS, wrote to USCIS staffers Lora Ries and Michael Bars about a speaking event hosted by CIS and organized by Telford as part of CIS’s Immigration Newsmaker series. Vaughan confirms plans for Cissna to leave through a back entrance at the National Press Club, suggesting they schedule the event early in the morning “to avoid any protesters or other disturbances.”

Page 211: In emails about a largely redacted “Remain in Mexico” policy draft, USCIS officials discussed two proposed CBP screening questions, which appear on page 334: “Do you have a fear of being returned or removed to another country? If so, to which countries do you fear return or removal?”

On Nov. 21, 2018, Jennifer Higgins of USCIS emailed Meghann Peterlin, executive director of policy and planning at DHS: “Can you make sure it has the presumption built in rather than CBP proactively asking the two questions?”

Page 238: On Nov. 22, 2018, Kathy Nuebel Kovarik wrote to Higgins and fellow USCIS staffers Elizabeth Mura, John Lafferty, Jennifer Rellis, Craig Symons, and Ted Kim about the drafted policy: “Reviewed this, and it’s a bit concerning that CBP sent it around again leaving in the part about asking questions (vs presumption/manifestation) as was discussed. I struck it all to make the point more boldly.”

Page 334: Higgins commented on a second draft of the “Remain in Mexico” policy: “At the morning call on Wednesday, we believed a decision was made to use a presumption and only if the alien manifested a fear to MEXICO would they be referred for screening. Has that decision been revisited?”