In the run up to the presidential election, Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have been traveling around the country to underscore the administration’s accomplishments, particularly as they relate to President Donald Trump’s core “law-and-order” message.
Trump ran on the promise to crack down on immigration and a little over a week before the presidential election, his Homeland Security chief was in Phoenix amplifying that message, blurring the line between official business and electoral politics.
Speaking from Arizona, a battleground state, Wolf ran through a litany of immigration policy changes, touting them as successes while delivering veiled criticisms at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s immigration proposals.
Over time, the changes to the US immigration system have been swift and sweeping. Wolf suggested Thursday that any reversal to those policies would put the public at risk.
“Decriminalizing illegal entry, stopping the deportation of criminal aliens, resuming catch and release, returning to a broken asylum system, dismantling the border wall system, walking away from landmark international agreements, and putting foreign workers first in line for American jobs is not the way to secure the Homeland,” Wolf said. “These are not just bad policies, these are dangerous.”
The Trump administration’s changes to the US immigration system may stand to be one of the President’s most lasting legacies. But the timing of a DHS speech only days before the Nov. 3 election appears more intended to service the President’s re-election.
“Again – even if you avoid saying the name Joe Biden – it’s clear he’s trying to paint a picture that all the things that he thinks the Trump administration has accomplished would be turned around,” said David Lapan, a former Homeland Security official.
In recent weeks, Wolf has appeared at a number of press conferences, of which some have been focused on singling out jurisdictions that limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, a policy Trump has repeatedly criticized.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency that falls under DHS, also put up billboards picturing immigrants who were previously arrested or convicted of crimes in six locations in Pennsylvania, a critical swing state. The billboards cost $9,000, according to a senior ICE official.
Wolf has dismissed accusations of the department’s actions being political in nature. “It’s not about an election. It’s not about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about sanctuary city policies,” Wolf said during a news conference earlier this month on sanctuary jurisdictions.
“If the President were counting on being re-elected, none of those things would be the case,” countered Lapan. “The only thing he’s talking about is what a different administration might do.”
The Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department have increasingly come under scrutiny for appearing overly political.
Earlier this year, for example, current and former Homeland Security officials warned the increased politicization of law enforcement amid unrest in Portland risked undercutting public trust in DHS, which was established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Some Justice officials have also taken notice of Barr’s increased travel in recent weeks, an anywhere-but-Washington tour that suggested he was trying to keep a lower profile at a time Trump has been expressing dissatisfaction with Barr and the Justice Department.
The Justice Department says Barr’s travel was intended to highlight the work of prosecutors and federal agents for “Operation Legend,” an important anti-violent crime initiative.