Key pieces of his agenda are stalled. Top aides are feuding. And there’s worry that the very issue that swept President Donald Trump into office in 2016 could help cost him his reelection in 2020.
Nearly three years into office, Trump’s attempts to match the lofty campaign promises he made on immigration are in disarray — the wall remains largely unbuilt, so-called sanctuary cities are still receiving federal money and birthright citizenship remains intact. And over at the sprawling Department of Homeland Security, a bitter dispute recently erupted over who should head the agency tasked with enacting Trump’s immigration policies, leading some frustrated aides to plot ways to circumvent federal law and push for the leader of their choice.
“The reason there is such disarray at the leadership level of DHS is because there is disarray and disunity within the White House on the immigration issue generally,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, who supports immigration restrictions.
The jumbled approach is not just affecting immigration policy. Throughout the Trump administration, the same themes are playing out — top officials with deep philosophical divides are sparring over what to do and temporary leaders are given little power to push through an agenda.
Trump, a businessman-turned-reality-TV star, had no experience in politics when he swept into office in 2017, promising to shake up the nation’s capital and push a hard line on immigration. His lack of connections to official Washington and bare-bones transition infrastructure forced Trump to quickly fill jobs across the federal government, hiring both loyalists and establishment Republicans.
“There are people who actually supported what he would do,” said a senior administration official who has worked on immigration, among other issues. “And there are Republicans who always support a president when a Republican is elected.”
These divisions are still playing out years later. They spilled into public last week when Trump tapped Chad Wolf to temporarily head DHS. Wolf has ties to ousted DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, an unpopular figure to immigration hard-liners, and once lobbied for an organization that aimed to maintain a foreign worker visa program that immigration hawks have fought to change. In 2016, Trump himself criticized the visas, calling it a “cheap labor” program.