Stephen Miller reveals Trump's second-term immigration agenda

Sahil Kapur and Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff
·5 min read

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's senior adviser Stephen Miller has fleshed out plans to rev up Trump's restrictive immigration agenda if he wins re-election next week, offering a stark contrast to the platform of Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

In a 30-minute phone interview Thursday with NBC News, Miller outlined four major priorities: limiting asylum grants, punishing and outlawing "sanctuary cities," expanding the so-called travel ban with tougher screening for visa applicants and slapping new limits on work visas.

The objective, he said, is "raising and enhancing the standard for entry" to the United States.

Some of the plans would require legislation. Others could be achieved through executive action, which the Trump administration has relied on heavily in the absence of a major immigration bill.

"In many cases, fixing these problems and restoring some semblance of sanity to our immigration programs does involve regulatory reform," Miller said. "Congress has delegated a lot of authority. ... And that underscores the depth of the choice facing the American people."

Miller, who serves in a dual role as an adviser in the White House and to Trump's re-election campaign, stressed that he was speaking about second-term priorities only in his capacity as campaign adviser.

Immigration has been overshadowed by surging coronavirus case numbers and an economy shattered by a nearly yearlong pandemic, but it was central to Trump's rise to power in the Republican Party, and Miller has been a driving force for the administration's often controversial policies to crack down on illegal migration and erect hurdles for aspiring legal immigrants.

Miller has spearheaded an immigration policy that critics describe as cruel, racist and antithetical to American values as a nation of immigrants. He scoffs at those claims, insisting that his only priority is to protect the safety and wages of Americans.

And he said he intends to stay on to see the agenda through in a second term if Trump is re-elected.

An immigration freeze

In the near term, Miller wouldn't commit to lifting the freeze on new green cards and visas that's set to expire at the end of the year, saying it would be "entirely contingent" on governmental analysis that factors in the state of the job market.

Asked whether he would support reinstating the controversial "zero tolerance" policy that led to families' being separated, Miller said the Trump administration is "100 percent committed to a policy of family unity," but he described the policy as one that would keep families together in immigration detention by changing what is known as the Flores settlement agreement.

Over the past year, the administration has sought to amend the Flores agreement, which says children can't be held over 20 days in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention. If it succeeds, immigrant families could be detained indefinitely as they await their day in immigration court.

Keep asylum down

On Trump's watch, asylum grants have plummeted. Miller wants to keep it that way. He said a second-term Trump administration would seek to expand "burden-sharing" deals with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador that cut off pathways to the U.S. for asylum-seekers.

"The president would like to expand that to include the rest of the world," Miller said. "And so if you create safe third partners in other continents and other countries and regions, then you have the ability to share the burden of asylum-seekers on a global basis."

Punish and outlaw sanctuary cities

"Another major priority with a big contrast is going to be really cracking down aggressively on sanctuary cities," Miller said.

He noted that the administration has withheld some grants to sanctuary cities. In a second term, he said, it would continue the battle with two new initiatives.

First, Miller said, Trump would push for legislation filed by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., which would punish jurisdictions that refuse to turn over arrested people who are in the U.S. illegally to ICE for deportation. Second, Trump would go a step further with a law to "outlaw the practice," thereby making it mandatory for authorities to turn those migrants over to the feds.

Expand travel ban, screenings

Miller said another priority would be "building on and expanding the framework that we've created with the travel ban, in terms of raising the standard for screening and vetting for admission to the United States."

That includes enhanced screening methods and more information-sharing among agencies to vet applicants seeking admission into the country. The U.S. already looks for ties to terrorism and extremist groups. Miller wants to go further by vetting the "ideological sympathies or leanings" of visa applicants to gauge their potential for recruitment by radicals.

That may include changing the interview process, adding interviews or talking to people close to applicants about their beliefs.

"That's going to be a major priority," he said. "It's going to require a whole government effort. It's going to require building a very elaborate and very complex screening mechanism."

Curtail work visas

Miller said a second-term Trump administration would finalize efforts to curtail use of guest-worker programs like H-1B visas, including by eliminating the lottery system used in the process when applications exceed the annual quota and by giving priority to those being offered the highest wages.

He said Trump would pursue a "points-based entry system" for American visa grants aimed at admitting only those who "can contribute the most to job creation and economic opportunity" while preventing "displacement of U.S. workers."

Biden responds

Asked to respond, Biden's director of Latino media Jennifer Molina said, "We are going to win this election so that people like Stephen Miller don't get the chance to write more xenophobic policies that dishonor our American values."

Biden himself weighed in Friday afternoon, saying in a statement that the agenda outlined by Miller represents "four more years of hateful rhetoric and division" and policies that demonstrate "cruelty and exclusion" rather than hope.

"This agenda is designed to do one thing only: divide our communities with cheap, xenophobic rhetoric, and demonize those seeking to make legitimate asylum claims in the United States to find a life of safety for themselves and their children," he said.