WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday said he was bringing a longtime lawman and enthusiastic supporter out of retirement to serve as “border czar” as his administration struggles with a worsening crisis that his hard-line immigration policies have failed to stem.
Thomas Homan most recently led U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as acting director and was nominated for the job permanently, but bowed out because he wanted to retire. He has spent the months since promoting Trump’s policies on Fox News.
“Tom Homan’s coming back,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” during a telephone interview. “He’s going to be very much involved with the border. … He’ll be a border czar, reporting directly to me.”
With this latest appointment, Trump continues to stack immigration jobs with men who have publicly defended his efforts on television, in some cases removing Senate-approved officials he had soured on.
The Associated Press first reported that the administration was creating the position of immigration czar, and at the time was considering a former Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, for the job. But a White House-orchestrated staff shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security put the position on the back burner.
There was squabbling over whether the new office would be in the White House, where the czar would work across the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Health and Human Services — all of which manage a piece of the border security — or solely within Homeland Security. Cuccinelli was later named head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after Trump asked Lee Francis Cissna to quit.
Trump said Homan would probably be based out of the White House but would spend much of his time at the U.S.-Mexico border, where there has been a surge of Central American migrant families.
Trump notably said he has not decided yet whether he would nominate Kevin McAleenan , the acting Homeland Security secretary, to the position permanently. McAleenan is the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, and moved up to the top spot after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned in April.
“We’re going to see, I’ve got to get used to him,” he said. “Because it’s a very important thing to me, the border, we need strong people at the border and if people aren’t strong, they’re not going to do a good job. It’s that simple.”
More than 100,000 people have crossed the border each month for the past few months, the majority of them families. That level had not been seen since 2004, when most of the people crossing were single men, who could be returned over the border more easily.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection said its agents are overwhelmed and do not have the funding or resources to handle the influx. HHS, the agency responsible for unaccompanied children after they are released from Border Patrol custody, said it is past capacity with more than 13,000 children in its care. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is detaining more than 52,000 people, but is budgeted for only 45,000.
Homan didn’t respond to a message seeking comment. A frequent contributor to Fox News, he has been an enthusiastic advocate of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
During his tenure at ICE, he spearheaded a 40 percent surge in deportation arrests and established policies to make immigration arrests at courthouses and detain pregnant women.
Homan started his career in 1984 as a Border Patrol agent before moving to ICE, where he worked up the ranks.
He was a relatively low-key but influential figure on immigration enforcement in the Obama administration and was near the end of his retirement party about a week after Trump took office when then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly called to ask that he consider staying as acting director of ICE. Homan said he had a lucrative job waiting in the private sector, and his wife and son worried about the pressures of the job. Kelly gave him a weekend to decide, and he accepted.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.