Stephen Miller isn’t apologizing for family separation at the border

Raised in a liberal Jewish family and the descendant of immigrants, Miller's hard-line immigration views are driving the Trump administration's widely-condemned crackdown.

By BEN SALES/JTA
June 21, 2018 08:34
3 minute read.
Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Who is among the biggest cheerleaders for a policy that some people compared to the actions of Nazis and supporters said was an essential tool in securing America’s borders?

That would be Stephen Miller, a Jewish senior adviser to President Trump. A New York Times article published Saturday called Miller “instrumental” to the policy, which President  Donald Trump halted Wednesday after weeks of mounting bipartisan outrage.

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“No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” Miller told The Times. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

The “simple decision” led to a policy that drew broad rebuke from across the political and religious spectrum. The policy, which was instituted in May, said anyone who crosses the border illegally will be detained and prosecuted. That means children, who cannot be prosecuted and detained like adults, were forcibly separated from their parents for an undetermined period. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents.

Some Republicans criticized the decision. Nearly all Democrats lambasted it. Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups, liberal and conservative, came out against it. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of it.

But Miller, speaking to The Atlantic earlier this year, made clear that he sees an immigration crackdown as a feature of the Trump presidency, not a bug.

“The American people were warned — let me [be] sarcastic when I remark on that — [they] were quote-unquote warned by Hillary Clinton that if they elected Donald Trump, he would enforce an extremely tough immigration policy, crack down on illegal immigration, deport people who were here illegally, improve our vetting and screening, and all these other things,” Miller said. “And many people replied to that by voting for Donald Trump.”

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Miller grew up in a liberal Jewish family in Santa Monica, California, where even as a high school student he gained a reputation for relishing policies that irked the left. Following his studies at Duke University, her served as an aide to then-Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and later with Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator who is now attorney general.

This isn’t the first time that Miller’s hard-line immigration policy has caused controversy. He is seen as one of the architects of the Trump administration’s initial travel ban on seven Muslim countries. He also was credited with upending a DACA deal that Trump had struck with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Last August, Miller held a contentious news briefing about proposed changes to the legal immigration system in this country that would give English speakers priority and reduce the number of annual legal immigrants in half.

At the briefing, Miller sparred with CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who asked him how the new policy would jibe with the words of the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty that declares “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Miller responded that while the statue is “a symbol of American liberty lighting the world,” the poem, which was affixed to the statue after it went up, “is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

Miller also said that Acosta showed his “cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree” when he claimed the policy would privilege immigrants from English-speaking countries.

Miller, perhaps ironically, is himself descended from immigrants who came through Ellis Island. And some of his relatives aren’t happy with his efforts.

An uncle, David Glosser, posted Sunday on Facebook: “With all familial affection I wish Stephen career success and personal happiness, however I cannot endorse his political preferences.”

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