What We Know About Trump’s Pick to Lead ICE
President Donald Trump announced on Sunday that his new pick to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement is Mark Morgan, a law enforcement veteran who oversaw Border Patrol during the final months of the Obama administration. The move came several weeks after Trump withdrew his nomination of former acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello to lead the agency, saying he wanted to move in a “tougher direction.”
Morgan’s nomination is in some ways surprising: He has expressed support for immigration reform in the past, and he was forced to resign just a day after Trump‘s inauguration. But in the months since his departure, Morgan has appeared intent on proving his loyalty to the president, going on TV to defend Trump‘s hardline views and voice his support for the border wall. Trump seems to have taken notice: The week after withdrawing Vitiello’s nomination, he tweeted that Morgan had urged him to “stay the course” with immigration policy.
In announcing the nomination on Sunday, Trump praised Morgan as a “true believer and American Patriot.” Once he’s formally nominated, Morgan will have to be confirmed by the Senate before he can take over from Matthew Albence, who’s currently the agency’s acting director.
Though Morgan’s tenure as Border Patrol chief lasted only a few months, his career in law enforcement has stretched more than 30 years. He spent 20 years in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and he has served in the Marine Corps and in local law enforcement. In 2014, he also spent six months as assistant commissioner for the Office of Internal Affairs at Customs and Border Protection.
The choice to nominate a career law enforcement official could be a strategic move for Trump, who hasn’t been able to get an ICE director confirmed by the Senate since taking office. (The agency has been led by acting directors in the meantime.) In Morgan, he may have found an ICE director who’s respected and experienced enough to be confirmed by the Senate, while still taking a tough stance on immigration.
He’s Clashed With the Border Patrol Union
Morgan’s time as head of Border Patrol was characterized by a rocky relationship with the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents the agency’s officers. As the first outsider in 92 years to lead Border Patrol, he was immediately condemned by union representatives who believed he was too sympathetic to the agency’s critics. He also angered the union at a Senate hearing in which he said he supported immigration reform—though his words were vague, and he later said he didn’t want “blanket amnesty.”
Brandon Judd, the head of the Border Patrol union and a member of Trump‘s transition team, was glad to see Morgan pushed out, telling the Associated Press at the time, “He didn’t know the job to begin with.”
Conservative Media Are Starting to Embrace Him
Though they’ve been critical of Morgan in the past, outlets like Breitbart and Fox News now love to point out that a former Obama administration official is getting onboard with Trump‘s immigration agenda. Morgan has repeatedly appeared on Fox News to express his support for Trump and recently said he supported the president’s plan to release migrants into sanctuary cities. As the head of ICE, Morgan could be a more vocal supporter of Trump‘s agenda than Vitiello, who seems to have frustrated the president by shying away from controversial statements.
He Has Echoed Trump’s Talking Points About a Border ‘Crisis’
In a recent Fox News op-ed, Morgan claimed that the “current crisis” at the border is “worse” than in the 1990s, when many more people were crossing the border illegally. He also dismissed claims that Central American asylum seekers are fleeing violence and persecution and described the release of hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the country as “unconscionable.”
At a recent Senate hearing, Morgan railed against “catch and release” policies and said that the Flores settlement, which generally requires children to be released after 20 days in detention, “has impeded the [United States] government‘s ability to maintain custody of families and minors.” All this suggests that he’ll support Trump‘s efforts to be more aggressive in detaining families as the Department of Homeland Security looks to expand ICE‘s detention capacity.