In the Documents: Stephen Miller’s Emails with Top ICE Official

(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The extremist views of White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller — the man behind many of the administration’s hardline immigration policies — have come under renewed condemnation in recent weeks. Last month, Kamala Harris and 26 other senators signed a letter urging President Donald Trump to fire Miller after emails released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed that Miller had regularly shared articles explicitly promoting white nationalism before his time in the White House. 

Miller’s reach across the administration is wide, and his influence is strong. He has reportedly installed advisers in various agencies who share his far-right, anti-immigrant agenda, and records recently obtained by American Oversight provide a glimpse of how he has used that network to advance his policy goals. The emails, which include communications between Miller and Jon Feere, a senior adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reveal new details about Miller’s behind-the-scenes efforts to build a case linking crime and illegal immigration by publicizing high-profile criminal incidents.

In nearly 500 pages of emails, the records demonstrate a close working partnership between Feere and Miller, in which Feere appears to help Miller craft agenda-serving narratives, sending Miller news clips and even, it appears, detailed updates regarding internal workings at ICE. The exchanges shed light on Miller’s collaboration with Feere and support previous reporting on Miller’s involvement in immigration policy at multiple levels of the federal government.

The Search for “Potentially-Helpful Storylines”

Prior to ICE, Feere worked at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an anti-immigration think tank designated as a hate group by SPLC in 2016 for “its record of publishing reports that hype the criminality of immigrants.

One instance in which Miller and Feere worked to “hype” immigrant criminality involved the case of Kate Steinle, who was shot and killed in 2015 while walking with her father in San Francisco. José Garcia Zárate, a homeless undocumented immigrant who had been previously deported five times, was charged with first-degree murder. On Nov. 30, 2017, Garcia Zárate was acquitted of the murder charges and was instead found guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The same day, Miller and Feere emailed each other under the subject line “Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Jerry Brown silent on Steinle verdict,” referencing three prominent California politicians.

Later that night, Feere told Miller that ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan would be “issuing a solid statement” regarding the court verdict. Less than an hour later, Feere sent Homan’s statement to Miller, Special Assistant to the President Julia Hahn, then–White House Counsel Zina G. Bash, and then–Special Assistant to the President John Zadrozny, who took on the role of acting chief of staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in November 2019.

In August, Garcia Zárate’s conviction was overturned by a California appeals court on the grounds of a “prejudicial” failure to inform the jury that Garcia Zárate had initially told police he’d unwittingly set off the gun, which he found wrapped in rags.

Another effort to push connections between immigration policy and crime took place a month later. On Dec. 23, 2017, Feere forwarded Miller a DHS “Statement on Immigration Backgrounds of Recent Terror-Related Suspects.” The statement referenced another high-profile case, this one involving Zoobia Shahnaz, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen. Shahnaz, a resident of Long Island, N.Y., pleaded and was found guilty of wiring more than $150,000 from a bank fraud scheme to entities supporting the terrorist organization ISIS.

Miller’s and Feere’s interest in Shahnaz’s immigration background was referenced again in an email dated a few days later. On Dec. 29, 2017, an unidentified individual forwarded an email to Homan that included “progress updates” written by Feere. That individual noted that Feere had sent this “weekly report” to Miller before Homan could review it. 

The update reveals that Feere had delegated an investigation into Shahnaz’s immigration history to a “field office,” saying that “better coordination between DHS Privacy and Comms is going to be critical if we’re to shape the narrative. I will always take the initiative in locating potentially-helpful storylines, but I can’t do Comm’s and Privacy’s jobs for them.”

Feere’s report also mentions other steps he took that week to further the Trump administration’s immigration agenda. According to his update, Feere also made headway on a memorandum of agreement for information-sharing between ICE and the Department of Labor regarding worksite enforcement so that the two agencies could “come to an agreement on terms more favorable to ICE’s mission.” Feere also halted an agency reply to an Amnesty International inquiry, worked on “assisting a Fox News contributor,” and coordinated with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to shape the language in a “criminal aliens” report.

“Consistent with your vision”

The records include plenty of indications that Feere and Miller continued to share information by regularly emailing news clips on immigration and attending “Weekly Immigration Policy Meetings” between the Department of Justice and the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, of which Miller is part. There is also evidence that the two worked together in pushing specific story angles to the public through collaboration on interviews, narrative reports, and talking points. 

In July 2017, Feere and Breitbart News reporter Brandon Darby appear to have exchanged emails about Homan’s stance on deportation. On July 1, Darby asked about Homan’s previous work in the Obama administration.

The name of the official who responded is redacted, but is likely Feere. That response was “If you are attempting to suggest that Mr. Homan is not a vigorous defender of immigration enforcement, the hard working agents and officers of ICE and the public safety and national security of this county, then you could not be more wrong.” Breitbart later published the email exchange on its website.

A few days later, on July 10, Feere sent an email with the subject line “Breitbart heads up” to what appears to be Miller. Feere expressed concern that Homan had been framed as an open-borders advocate and asked for assistance to “nip this narrative in the bud.” Feere then wrote, “[R]ight now, it would be very helpful for the White House, if not you, to provide a solid quote.” 

This type of cooperation — focused on steering public narratives on immigration in a strategic manner — extended into policymaking as well. On July 12, 2017, it appears that Feere emailed Miller for a five-minute phone call about a proposal regarding the recalcitrant country index, a DHS system for ranking foreign countries’ compliance in taking back people deported from the United States. “I’d like to make sure whatever is proposed is consistent with your vision,” he wrote. “But I also have a very significant angle that I’d like to propose to you.” In August 2017, it was reported that the Trump administration planned to sanction Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea, and Sierra Leone for refusing to take back migrants that the U.S. had tried to deport. The implementation of the sanctions were announced by DHS the following month.

Another document in particular demonstrates the attempt to assert a correlative relationship between immigrants and crime for the purposes of undermining the DACA program, which allows undocumented residents brought to the U.S. as children to get work permits. Included in a partially redacted memo titled “ICE’s Challenges with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” shared by Feere on Aug. 23, 2017, is an unredacted section containing stories of U.S. immigrants who committed criminal offenses.  

“Since the start of DACA in 2012, DHS has terminated DACA for approximately 1,987 recipients due to criminality and/or gang affiliation,” the memo reads. “With so many terminations, it is clear that DACA standards are insufficient for the purpose of protecting legal residents of the United States.” (For comparison, according to USCIS, as of June 30, 2019, there are approximately 660,000 active DACA recipients who have not had their status terminated.) 

“DACA recipients include murderers, child molesters, individuals involved in fraud schemes, gang members, and many other types of criminals,” the memo continues.

Collaboration between Miller and Feere is also suggested in heavily redacted correspondence. In December 2017, Feere emailed Miller “Ideas for swift action,” on an unknown subject, for which Miller thanked him. On March 8, 2018, Feere contacted Miller about an “Ask from Director Homan.” And in June 2019, Feere emailed Miller contact information for Corey Price, the assistant director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, and Peter Edge, the acting deputy director of ICE. The specific contents of these emails were either partially or fully redacted.

With the help of like-minded officials such as Feere, Miller continues to shape immigration policy throughout the federal government. These records shed light on Miller and Feere’s working relationship as well as their effort to promote stories that seem to confirm with President Donald Trump’s claims that undocumented immigrants are all criminals — no matter the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As American Oversight continues to investigate Stephen Miller’s influence in the federal government, it is clear that his management of the White House’s immigration narrative, and the work of his allies like Feere, serves a narrow-minded vision for American immigration policy.

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