‘Not policy’: White House denies leaked memo on national guard swoop on migrants
A leaked 11-page draft memo calls for the unprecedented militarisation of immigration enforcement to round up illegal immigrants
The White House has been forced to deny that a draft memo suggesting it considered mobilising 100,000 national guard troops to round up and deport unauthorised immigrants, including millions living nowhere near the Mexico border, is current administration policy.
An 11-page draft memo obtained by the Associated Press calls for the unprecedented militarisation of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Oregon, and as far east as New Orleans, Louisiana.
Governors in the 11 states named would have a choice regarding whether to have their guard troops participate, according to the memo, which was written by the US homeland security secretary, John Kelly, a retired four-star marine general.
As Democrats condemned the proposal, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, told journalists: “That is 100 per cent not true. It is false. It is irresponsible to be saying this.”
Using the present tense, he added: “There is no effort at all to round up, to utilise the national guard to round up illegal immigrants.”
The Department for Homeland Security echoed this language. “The Department is not considering mobilising the national guard,” said the department’s acting press secretary, Gillian Christensen, in an email.
But Spicer would not categorically state that such a round-up was never a subject of discussion at some level in the Trump administration . “I don’t know what could potentially be out there, but I know that there is no effort to do what is potentially suggested,” he said.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, as Trump headed to a Boeing plant in South Carolina, Spicer added: “It is not a White House document.” The AP’s document states that it is from Kelly and so would have originated from the Department of Homeland Security, not the White House.
Later, the deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, insisted that Kelly did not personally write the memo. “I don’t specifically know who put pen to paper but I know that it was not Secretary Kelly and it wasn’t at his direction,” she told reporters.
Asked if the memo was written during the transition, Sanders added: “I’m not aware on the exact timeline on when it happened but what I do know is that this White House and this president has had no plans in any capacity to use the national guard to round up.”
During last year’s presidential election campaign, Trump pledged to create a “deportation force” to deport the more than 11 million people living in the US illegally.
While national guard personnel have been used to assist with immigration-related missions on the US-Mexico border before, they have never been used as broadly or as far north.
The four states that border Mexico are included in the proposal – California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – but it also encompasses seven states contiguous to those four: Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The chairman of the House Democratic Caucus said on Friday that the reports were “outrageous” and “very reminiscent of what led up to World War II”.
Representative Joseph Crowley, made the statement in an interview for C-SPAN’s Newsmakers programme shortly after news of the draft Department of Homeland Security memo broke
“Using the National Guard, the Army, to come into our communities, to police our communities, to disrupt and to gather people up for the purpose of deporting them, is a very, very scary thing,” he said. “It’s not a country that I’m familiar with called the United States. It’s not how we conduct ourselves. We see that happen in other countries that aren’t as free and aren’t as open as we are to welcoming immigrants. We welcome immigrants. We want the best, the brightest and the bravest. ... And now they’re under fear that armed [men], you know, with M16 rifles, come to your door and break it down and leave your children who are American citizens there but take you and deport you.”
Chuck Schumer, the leading Democrat in the Senate, called the possibility of the roundups “despicable”.
“That would be one of the most un-American things that would happen in the last century and I just hope that it’s not true,” Schumer told reporters. “The fact that it might even be considered is appalling.”
Democratic senator Kamala Harris of California added that the prospect of national guard members going door to door to check people’s documents was “deeply disturbing”, noting that the guard’s main responsibility was to help people in distress after natural disasters.
“Deploying them for any other purpose is a severe mismanagement of resources, an abuse of executive power, and conjures images of Japanese internment camps and mass deportations of Mexican immigrants under President Eisenhower. I challenge Republicans and Democrats, whether they are members of Congress or governors, to condemn this plan and ensure it never sees the light of day.”
The memo is addressed to the then acting heads of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and US Customs and Border Protection. It would have served as guidance to implement the wide-ranging executive order on immigration and border security that Trump signed on 25 January. Such memos are routinely issued to supplement executive orders.
The draft document has circulated among DHS staff over the last two weeks. As recently as last Friday, staffers in several offices reported discussions were under way.
If implemented, the impact could be significant. Nearly half of the 11.1 million people residing in the US without authorisation live in the 11 states, according to Pew Research Centre estimates based on 2014 census data.