For nearly three years, Stephen Miller has used his White House seat to orchestrate the most extreme anti-immigrant agenda in almost a century. But he hasn’t done it alone.
A loose network of lawyers and advisers embedded throughout the Trump administration has worked closely with Miller to carry out the daily effort of pushing through draconian and often inhumane policies like separating migrant families at the border, detaining young migrants in cagelike facilities, and drastically reducing the number of immigrants allowed entry into the country. In other words, Miller, with his white-nationalist mindset and fervor to enact xenophobic policies, is far from an isolated actor. He’s the leader of a broad operation spread across the federal government.
Newly released emails provided to Rolling Stone offer a glimpse of the working relationship between Miller and one of his internal allies and fellow ideologues: a senior adviser at Immigration and Customs Enforcement named Jon Feere. Feere has been a fixture in Miller’s immigration working group where new ideas for cracking down on immigration get conceived. Reading the emails, Feere comes across like Miller’s point man inside ICE, enjoying unfettered access to arguably the most influential aide in the Trump White House, working long hours to advance the administration’s extreme and often inhumane immigration policy.
In the emails, Feere strategizes with Miller about how to use the federal government to amplify their anti-immigration message; tees up potential attacks on prominent Democratic politicians; directly briefs Miller in great detail about upcoming enforcement actions and policy changes in the works; and recommends to Miller people the administration should hire to expedite its immigration agenda. The emails also show that on at least one occasion Feere bypassed his superiors at ICE to deliver updates and advice directly to Miller.
“Stephen Miller didn’t cut ties with the extremists when he joined the government — he brought them with him,” says Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, a government watchdog group run by former members of the Obama administration. American Oversight first obtained Feere’s emails through a Freedom of Information Act request and provided them to Rolling Stone.
ICE and the White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Before he joined the administration, Feere’s bio says he worked for more than a decade at the rabidly anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, which has played an instrumental role in shaping the administration’s immigration policies. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled CIS an active hate group. (In January, CIS filed a civil racketeering suit against SPLC’s leaders, but a district judge dismissed the suit.) As a policy analyst there, Feere took hardline positions critical of birthright citizenship as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment and of President Obama’s policies like DACA. He accused Obama of opening the border “to more STDs,” and gave testimony to Congress about restricting birthright citizenship. He wrote favorably of Arizona’s infamous “Show Us Your Papers” law and condemned the DREAM Act, cities that adopt sanctuary status, and Obama’s DACA policy. In 2015, he penned an op-ed titled “How Trump Could Change Birthright Citizenship.”
Feere’s outspokenness didn’t go unnoticed: He advised the 2016 Trump campaign on immigration for several months before taking a job inside the administration. On the morning of Trump’s inauguration, he hit send on a tweet: “It’s time to make immigration policy great again.”
The partnership between Feere and Miller was a natural one. Miller is a big fan of the Center for Immigration Studies. During a keynote address at a CIS event in 2015, he applauded the group for spurring “a debate that far too often operates, like illegal immigrants, in the shadows.” A recent investigation by SPLC’s Hatewatch revealed that Miller shaped Breitbart News’ immigration coverage leading up to the 2016 election by sending at least 46 emails that mentioned CIS research, employees, or contributors to a Breitbart editor named Katie McHugh. Miller sent McHugh the phone number of CIS’s research director and pushed McHugh to use CIS research in her stories, which she often did. (Breitbart fired McHugh in 2017. She says he has since disavowed right-wing extremist politics.)
“We used [CIS material] to spin a narrative where immigrants of color were not only dangerous, violent individuals but also posed an existential threat to America,” McHugh told Hatewatch. “We never fact-checked anything. We never called up other organizations to get any other perspective about those studies…. It was understood. You just write it up.”
After Trump’s victory, Miller brought fellow immigration hardliners with him into the new administration. In addition to Feere, there was Julia Hahn, a Breitbart writer who took a job in the White House, and Julie Kirchner, a former staffer at another prominent anti-immigration group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), who became an adviser to the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection and later the top ombudsman at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Because Feere, Hahn, and Kirchner took advisory roles, that meant they didn’t have to be confirmed by the Senate, where they probably would’ve faced harsh questioning for their extreme views.
An active Twitter user before he went into government, Feere’s account went dark after his Inauguration Day tweet. That’s why the emails between Feere, Miller, and other Trump administration officials are useful — they give a rare glimpse at how key figures in the administration have worked behind the scenes to enact the largest crackdown on immigration in this country since the 1920s and ’30s.
“We’ve had quite draconian politics in the past,” says Daniel Tichenor, a professor at the University of Oregon. “But I don’t think we have ever had a modern presidential administration that looked back so longingly to the 1920s and ’30s as the good old days.”
The Feere-Miller emails released to American Oversight run to nearly 500 pages and are heavily redacted. But they’re still one of the few opportunities to see the administration and some of its most hardline members in action on the policy that Trump will be most remembered for: immigration.
One of the most striking emails is a December 22th, 2017, message that Feere sent to Miller and three other administration staffers. It’s a 10-point bulleted memo in which he updates Miller on a slew of different actions underway that he and his colleagues had worked on in the preceding week. The memo is notable because it appears to show how much latitude Feere has at ICE to not only brief the White House but drive forward the administration’s immigration agenda.
Feere says he led a meeting about crafting a new agreement between ICE and the Department of Labor on worksite immigration enforcement actions that would be “more favorable to ICE’s mission” of tracking down and deporting undocumented residents. He describes helping plan an upcoming ICE raid in the Bay Area, and tasking a field office to investigate a New York-based Pakistani American accused of supporting ISIS with bitcoin. He says he stopped an administration response to Amnesty International report on immigration enforcement; located ICE officers and operations “worth highlighting in speeches” for White House speechwriters; and assisted a Fox News contributor and “friendly NGO” on messaging after a draft proposal about separating migrant families had leaked to the media.
What’s notable as well about Feere’s December 22nd memo to Miller is that, according to emails, Feere apparently sent the message straight to Miller and other White House officials without clearing it by his bosses at ICE, who learned about the memo after the fact. “Here is Jon providing a weekly report to [redacted] that neither you or I saw before he sent it,” reads a follow-up email sent to ICE Acting Director Tom Homan by what appears to be Homan’s chief of staff, Tom Blank. (The redacted name is likely Miller’s. Homan declined to comment for the story.)
John Sandweg, who served as acting ICE director under Obama and reviewed the emails between Feere and Miller, says it’s not uncommon for an agency official like Feere to aggressively try to get credit for accomplishments and make the White House aware of what he’s doing. But Sandweg adds that it’s “a little strange” to see an adviser like Feere delivering updates and advice directly to the White House, as Feere did.
“You might have someone like [Feere] coordinating it, doing the grunt work, preparing it,” Sandweg says. “But going directly from him to the White House — that’s unusual. If you’re reporting that kind of detail to the White House, the director wants to sign off on that.”
In another email, sent on February 26th, 2018, Feere appears to forward the name and résumé of a Treasury Department employee for an opening at the Social Security Administration. In a follow-up email, Feere writes: “If we can get [name redacted] into SSA, it would help with information-sharing issues.” Greater access to Social Security information, immigration experts say, could assist ICE in its efforts to track down and deport undocumented residents in the U.S. Feere recommends to Miller that the applicant get a title of “Senior Advisor or similar [which] will ensure he has some clout over there.”
Other emails, while heavily redacted, show Feere’s efforts to build the case against DACA, which defers deportation for undocumented residents brought to the U.S. as children and allows them to receive temporary work permits. He writes in one memo: “DACA recipients include murderers, child molesters, individuals involved in fraud schemes, gang members, and many other types of criminals.” In another email, he writes to Miller on November 30th, 2017, to say that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom were “silent” on the acquittal of an undocumented resident who was alleged to have shot and murdered 32-year-old Kate Steinle in July 2015, teeing up a potential attack on two nationally known Democrats.
And still other messages show a close working relationship and rapport between Feere and Miller. In one message, Feere asks Miller for a public defense of ICE’s then-acting director, Tom Homan, after Breitbart had published a series of stories that were critical of Homan, who had previously worked in the Obama administration. In another email Miller sends Feere his cellphone number and tells him to call over the weekend. In another, Feere gives Miller a list of “ideas for swift action,” at 7:30 p.m. (The substance of that email is redacted.) And in yet another message, with the subject line “Appropriations,” Miller thanks Feere for his work and tells him to “keep pushing.”
Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, a Penn State law professor and director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, says that Feere’s and CIS’s role in carrying out the administration’s immigration policy marks an ascent to power for one of the most extreme voices — a rise that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. “They used to be called the loud minority,” Wadhia says. “The fact they’re now helping make immigration policy should be concerning to everyone.”