Ian M. Smith — the former policy analyst who left the Department of Homeland Security after the exposure of his ties to white nationalists — worked on immigration issues including budgetary matters surrounding children separated from their families at the border and deportation relief for Guatemalans, according to documents American Oversight obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
In August 2018, the Atlantic reported on a cache of emails that showed Smith, a Trump political appointee, had “in the past been in contact with a group that included known white nationalists as they planned various events.” The Atlantic and the Washington Post reported that Smith had worked on immigration policy, and had attended meetings at the White House. Smith resigned after the Atlantic surfaced the emails, but it remained unclear what exactly his work at DHS had been.
One answer came in a set of documents that DHS released to the Brennan Center for Justice and Protect Democracy, reported on this fall by the New York Times Magazine, which show that Smith was one of the officials charged with taking on the work of President Donald Trump’s “election integrity” commission after it was disbanded.
The commission, which Trump had established in part to bolster his meritless claims that voting fraud had led to his loss of the popular vote in 2016, had failed to turn up any evidence of widespread fraud, according to documents released in a lawsuit by American Oversight on behalf of Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. But after the administration dissolved the commission, it asked DHS to take up its work; the Brennan Center documents show that, among other things, Smith and others were talking about how to institute a national voter-ID requirement.
This wasn’t a new area of interest for Smith: A copy of his resume that we obtained showed that he had worked as a legal fellow for the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a well-known advocate of restrictive voting laws, who would become a member of Trump’s voter-fraud commission.
After the Atlantic reported on Smith’s ties with white nationalists, we submitted FOIA requests for any calendars he kept during his time at DHS, as well as for his resume and other employment records. DHS eventually produced Smith’s resume to us, but the agency claimed that it had no records of his calendars. While we have submitted another request seeking Smith’s calendars, some details of his work have emerged through his appearances in the calendars of other DHS officials.
For instance, the calendars of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adviser Kaitlin Stoddard show Smith joined Stoddard at a meeting with congressional staff in May 2018. In June and July of that year, Smith was invited to DHS meetings about Guatemala’s request for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Guatemalans in the U.S.
Also in July 2018, Smith was invited to a meeting during which participants planned to discuss the implementation of a memo on “eliminating duration of status,” the system that in most cases allows international students to stay in the country until they finish their course of study. More than two years later, in September 2020, DHS proposed a rule limiting the amount of time some students in the country could stay on student visas.
Our documents also show that Smith was involved in at least one conversation touching on the Trump administration’s family-separation policy. In a May 2018 email, Smith was identified as a DHS point of contact for an interagency briefing on “UAC,” the shorthand for unaccompanied migrant children, which was also applied to children who had been separated from their parents at the border. Smith was among those tasked with creating a briefing outlining “the Administration’s current and planned policies” impacting the Department of Health and Human Services program charged with custody of these children. The previous month, the Trump administration had announced a “zero tolerance” policy at the border, drastically increasing its separation of migrant families. Later in May, Smith was tasked with helping to gather background briefings for a weekly immigration call involving top DHS leadership.
Smith was hired into the Trump administration from the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform; several former employees of these groups have ended up with roles in the Trump administration. The resume we obtained shows that Smith was working for the organization at the time he was in touch with the group of white nationalists.
Meanwhile, other officials with ties to white nationalist thinking remain in office, including White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller and Julia Hahn, the president’s deputy communications director. And White House speechwriter Darren Beattie was recently rehired by the White House to work on a commission that helps preserve Holocaust-related sites abroad. Beattie had been fired in 2018 — the same month of Smith’s resignation — for attending a conference attended by white nationalists.
While Smith’s role at DHS was a relatively junior one, these documents give a glimpse of the breadth of immigration issues he worked on during his months at DHS. Unfortunately, since DHS has failed to produce Smith’s calendars, we are still in the dark about the extent of his work.
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