In the waning days of the Trump administration, top officials within the Department of Homeland Security sought to set in stone that administration’s stringent anti-immigration policies by signing agreements requiring the federal government to consult with various states before making changes to immigration policy.
American Oversight has obtained emails between DHS officials and officials in Louisiana and Texas that, as Buzzfeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz said when sharing the records on Twitter, reveal “the last minute nature of [the] agreements.” The records also show the involvement of then-Acting DHS General Counsel Chad Mizelle in the drafting of the agreements.
Dubbed Sanctuary for Americans First Enactment agreements, they were an apparent attempt to hamstring the incoming Biden administration’s immigration goals, such as pausing deportations and suspending the policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico. In late January, a federal judge temporarily blocked the deportation moratorium signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued, alleging the moratorium violated the agreement Texas signed with DHS. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose state also entered into an agreement during the Trump administration’s last month, filed a similar lawsuit in early February.
The records from Louisiana include an email from state Attorney General Jeff Landry to Mizelle on Nov. 25, 2020, asking Mizelle to send the draft memorandum they had discussed. Subsequent emails show Landry’s Dec. 3 request for his staff to review the memo “ASAP,” and show that the agreement was “executed” on Jan. 8.
According to the records from Texas, that state’s agreement was also signed on Jan. 8. Also included in the emails is an earlier version of the agreement, sent on Dec. 29, which contained signature lines for the heads of DHS component agencies as well as then-Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, though their names were removed from the final draft.
The agreements were ultimately signed by Ken Cuccinelli, the official performing the duties of DHS deputy secretary. In August 2020, the Government Accountability Office determined that Cuccinelli’s and Wolf’s appointments had been invalid, raising questions about the legitimacy of their official actions.
American Oversight is also investigating a similar agreement Cuccinelli made with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement labor union requiring DHS to obtain “affirmative consent” from the union on policy changes affecting ICE agents.