The Trump administration’s acting homeland security secretary tried to make himself the “public representative of the Wall, Travel ban, [and] Counter-Border Immigration” while serving as the head of Customs and Border Protection in 2017, according to new emails obtained by American Oversight.
The documents, obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation, also shed light on the response among CBP officials to American Oversight’s FOIA request regarding the agency having described immigrants as a “#CatchOfTheDay” in 2017.
The CBP documents obtained by American Oversight include an email from August 2017, as Trump’s battle for border wall funding continued to stall, in which a senior policy adviser at the CBP asked Michael Friel, the deputy assistant commissioner for public affairs, for a few paragraphs “to show in a concise but detailed way that [then–CBP Commissioner McAleenan’s] national and social media presence makes him the defacto government public representative of the Wall, Travel Ban, Counter-Border Immigration, etc.”
The border wall, a signature campaign promise of President Donald Trump for which he has been unable to receive funding from Congress, was the subject of the record-long government shutdown at the beginning of this year. As the CBP commissioner, McAleenan oversaw the initial implementation of the administration’s early 2017 travel ban for people from predominately Muslim countries amid its reportedly confusing rollout.
In April, a shakeup at the Department of Homeland Security sent Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials packing, with Trump appointing McAleenan to serve as acting secretary. McAleenan appeared on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, with his testimony focusing on his department’s request for emergency funding to deal with the increase in the number of migrants at the southern border. No funding for a border wall is included in the White House’s request for $4.5 billion in emergency spending, which the Senate Appropriations Committee is set to vote on next week.
The email about McAleenan’s media presence was included in hundreds of pages of documents requested by American Oversight in October 2017 after the CBP used the hashtag #CatchOfTheDay on Twitter alongside photos of immigrants apprehended at the border. Earlier document productions showed that a week after the tweet and two days after the FOIA request, a CBP media officer had to remind employees that such dehumanizing language was not appropriate. The new set of emails published today reveal additional emails not only about the hashtag use, but about the FOIA request.
The request had been a topic during a public affairs meeting just a few hours before the media officer sent the message. Listed in the meeting notes is “FOYA (sic) request from NGO upset about twitter account referring to drug bust as ‘Catch of the Day.’”
The media officer’s email came later that day, writing that it was CBP’s “policy to treat everyone with whom we interact with dignity and respect” and that “all are human, and should be treated humanely.” Another public affairs officer (PAO) replied to ask why they had to send such a reminder.
The media officer responded by mentioning American Oversight’s FOIA request: “‘Catch of the day’ was actually being used in reference to people by more than one PAO… Sadder still, an NGO has FOIA’d all such references to it…Ugh!”
“Ouch, double ugh,” wrote the other official in response.