Months before President Trump issued sweeping anti-immigration executive orders, he told U.S. Border Patrol employees that their union would play a critical role in cracking down on asylum seekers and refugees seeking to enter the United States.
In July, Trump appeared on the Green Line, the National Border Patrol Council’s (NBPC) podcast, promising Border Patrol agents they would be “given the tools” to patrol the border as they saw fit.
The weekly podcast is recorded at several Breitbart News Studios, which is owned by the white nationalist site Breitbart.
Trump has avid backers in the unions behind Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol that combined, represent 21,000 immigration officers. Shawn Moran, vice president of media relations for the Border Patrol union, representing 18,000 agents and support personnel in the U.S. Border Patrol, suggested in a recent Green Line episode that the NBPC should be credited with the president’s executive orders banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
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“This is not the result of anybody in the chain of command at the Reagan Building doing anything. … Don’t even think for a second this has anything to do with the commissioner [of Customs and Border Protection] or the chief of the Border Patrol, because it’s not,” said Moran, who in the podcast often conflates immigration with terrorism and charges that “illegals” are responsible for a number of social ills. “It’s because of the hard work of border patrol agents nationwide. We found somebody that was willing to listen, we supported him, he got elected, and now he is following through on what some people thought were just hyperbolic campaign promises.”
Like Trump, Moran often characterizes undocumented immigrants as criminals and murderers, often citing the case of Kathryn Steinle, who was shot and killed in San Francisco in 2015. An undocumented immigrant is charged with murder in Steinle’s death and is awaiting trial.
Trump during the 2016 campaign repeatedly referenced Steinle’s story, relying on unsupported and anecdotal evidence about the number of murders carried out by undocumented immigrants to justify draconian immigration laws. But according to studies conducted by the American Immigration Council and others, “immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not ‘criminals’ by any commonly accepted definition of the term.”
Trump is one of many anti-immigrant leaders to appear on the Border Patrol union’s Green Line podcast. Others include former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for “terrorizing” undocumented immigrants; and Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Studies, whose research was used as a reference on Trump’s campaign website for his formal immigration policies.
Moran said, “Thank God for Brandon Darby, thank God for Breitbart News.”
Darby is a former FBI informant and the managing director of Breitbart. He is responsible for articles such as, “Border Patrol Union: Feds Risking Agents’ Lives to Appease ‘Fringe’ Groups,” a reference to Border Patrol agents having their vehicles affixed with cameras after allegations of abuse and corruption. Darby has featured Moran in his work and has quoted him extensively. Usually, Moran is openly critical of Border Patrol officials, accusing the federal immigration agency of “backing down” to “special interest groups,” such as human rights organizations fighting on behalf of migrants abused by Border Patrol agents. He has accused “the politically-appointed class within the U.S. Border Patrol and in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP)” of “cooking the books” to make it appear as if “illegal immigration is decreasing.”
Moran operates as if the NBPC is in opposition to the Border Patrol in the Green Line podcast and in Breitbart articles in which he has been featured. Moran said in a recent Green Line podcast that he considered the agency to be part of the Obama administration.
Moran has made claims that the agency doesn’t allow Border Patrol agents “to do the job they signed up for,” something echoed by Art Del Cueto, president of Tucson Local 2544 and the vice president “at large” of NBPC, who told Rewire in a phone interview that Trump’s executive orders allow Border Patrol agents to “do the job we signed on for.”
The assertion that Border Patrol agents weren’t allowed to do their job under President Obama has been a popular Trump talking point.
Cueto cited “catch and release” as a “big problem,” something Trump has said and a topic he addressed in his a “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” executive order. The narrative pushed by Trump on the campaign trail was that “catch and release” was an immigration practice under Obama in which undocumented immigrants who came into contact with law enforcement—no matter the reason—were released rather than being detained and deported. There is no official immigration policy known as “catch and release,” rather it is the temporarily detaining of undocumented immigrants and then releasing them, pending immigration hearings.
NBPC officials have found a champion in Trump, whose chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon, used to lead Breitbart and who reportedly authored Trump’s anti-immigration executive orders. In NBPC, Trump has found a powerful ally willing to do his bidding. As Reveal’s Andrew Becker reported, “Long a lobbying force when bargaining with leadership, representing agents under scrutiny or acting as a ground-truth squad on Capitol Hill, the union last year backed Trump’s bid for the White House. Trump, in turn, has given the union favored status.”
It appears as if steps were taken to please the union as soon as Trump took office. Former Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan was asked to step down. Morgan was considered an outsider by NBPC, as he was the first chief in the agency’s 93-year history who had never worked as a Border Patrol agent. The former chief even came under fire from the executive board of NBPC, who called him a “disgrace to the Border Patrol” in a November op-ed published by Breitbart. NBPC board members wrote that Morgan was “worried because he knows that his comments attacking President-elect Trump’s border security policies prior to the election has him in hot water” and that as “a hand-picked Obama Administration official, [he] does not have the will necessary to secure the border for the citizens and legal residents of this country.”
High-ranking members of NBPC were present at the press conference in which Trump discussed his controversial executive orders. The president even acknowledged the union members. Soon after, there was a joint press release from NBPC and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) union reporting that morale among agents and officers “has increased exponentially since the signing of the orders.”
“If we had been allowed to do our job, some of those illegal aliens would not have been in this country and they would not have gone on their crime sprees or committed their crimes and those Americans would be alive,” Moran said on the Green Line. “President Obama, I believe, has blood on his hands, along with [former Department of Homeland Security] Secretary Jeh Johnson, [because] of all those families who lost their loved ones.” Again, evidence suggests that undocumented immigrants are less likely than the general population to be engaged in violent crime.
Trump has launched a political housecleaning campaign, removing officials unwilling to defend his anti-immigrant orders, and now has an anti-immigrant hate group leader in a key position overseeing Border Patrol. Bannon, the figurehead of a rebranded white supremacist movement, has an increasing level of control over the White House and the presidency.
Officers representing NBPC, which had never endorsed a presidential candidate before its endorsement of Trump, are thrilled by the president’s anti-immigrant executive orders and his “enforcement first” approach to immigration. This approach hasn’t worked since it was first implemented more than three decades ago, and it fails to address the reasons why people migrate.
“If you are not pro-enforcement,” Moran said on the Green Line, “it might be time to start looking for a transfer to a different agency.”