Congress

Stephen Miller must testify about placing immigrants in ‘sanctuary cities,’ Nadler says

Trump immigration adviser is at center of controversial proposal to release ‘thousands’ of undocumented immigrants into ‘sanctuary cities’

Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is seen before a House Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Protecting Dreamers and TPS Recipients,” in Rayburn Building on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Three top House Democrats are demanding answers from the Trump administration on a White House proposal to release undocumented immigrants in so-called sanctuary cities to retaliate against President Donald Trump's political rivals.

The chairmen of the House Committees on Oversight and Reform, the Judiciary, and Homeland Security set a May 3 deadline for Trump's White House and DHS to deliver documents and communications about the proposal, which was reportedly devised and pushed by Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller.

"Not only does the Administration lack the legal authority to transfer detainees in this manner, it is shocking that the President and senior Administration officials are even considering manipulating release decisions for purely political reasons," Chairmen Elijah Cummings (Oversight), Jerrold Nadler (Judiciary), and Bennie Thompson (Homeland Security) wrote in a letter Monday to acting White House chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

Nadler said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that whistleblowers told the Judiciary Committee “several weeks ago” that Miller had pushed the plan at DHS to release undocumented migrants into the so-called sanctuary cities — including the San Francisco district of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to retaliate against Trump’s political rivals who oppose his immigration policy.

He was rebuffed when lawyers at the department said such a transfer of detained immigrants was illegal.

Miller, the president's go-to adviser on immigration policy, cannot avoid fielding questions from lawmakers if they call on him to testify about a reported plan to drop off undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities, Nadler said Sunday.

Nadler, whose committee has jurisdiction over immigration policy, said Miller would likely try to claim executive privilege to avoid talking about his policy deliberations.

“But that would be a misuse of executive privilege,” Nadler said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “Because he seems to be making the decisions — not the Cabinet secretaries that come and go.”

Presidents can assert executive privilege to shield certain confidential communications from compelled disclosure to the judicial and legislative branches.

Trump and his White House counsel team have struck upon a broad interpretation of executive privilege in an effort to slow House Democrats’ investigations into his personal and business finances, and administrative decisions. They have claimed that private, confidential conversations are essential for helping the president receive candid advice from his officials.

As Trump continues to rely on acting secretaries and reportedly guts the Homeland Security Department of career officials, Miller has stepped in to fill the void on directing and influencing immigration policy.

After Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned last week, new acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan — the Customs and Border Protection commissioner — joined acting secretaries at the Pentagon and Interior Department. Mick Mulvaney, the Office of Management and Budget director, is currently the acting White House chief of staff. And Russell Vought is the acting OMB boss while Mulvaney is running the West Wing. 

There’s also an acting U.S. ambassador at the United Nations.

Trump has said previously that he likes having acting secretaries because it gives him “more flexibility.” Detractors have said the lack of full-time secretaries has hindered the administration’s ability to come up with coherent, long-term department policy strategies.

“Steve Miller, who seems to be the boss of everybody on immigration, ought to come before Congress and explain some of these policies,” Nadler said Sunday.

After the Homeland Security Department played down reports that it had mulled a proposal from the White House to release undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities, Trump struck a different note on Friday, tweeting that he was “strongly looking at” sending “thousands” of them to the cities.

John Bennett contributed to this report.

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