In ordinary times, it’s not easy to get the top officials at the Department of Homeland Security to grant interviews. But it’s almost Election Day, and Minnesota is politically up for grabs. So they’re coming to us, eager to talk about the Trump administration’s latest initiatives.
A news release came out last week announcing the results of a major ICE enforcement action, and it sounded like news. I checked into the livestream at the appointed hour and listened to Acting Director Tony Pham explain that agents had arrested more than 100 people in several states who were unlawfully in the United States, a majority of whom had convictions or pending charges or both.
The arrests took place over several days and were given the nickname “Operation Granite.” The thing is, ICE arrests about 400 people every day. Operation Granite seemed more like a slow day at the office.
A day later, the newsroom got a call.
A top Department of Homeland Security spokesperson wanted to set up an interview for us with Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary at DHS. Back in August, Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, determined Cuccinelli and his boss, acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, were ineligible to serve in their posts due to a bureaucratic error made by a previous DHS secretary.
But that’s not what Cuccinelli planned to talk about. He would go over the president’s recent announcement limiting refugee arrivals for the coming year to 15,000 people, a record low. The president’s order had extra restrictions on refugees coming from Somalia, the DHS spokesperson said, adding that people in Minnesota would want to hear about this.
So I listened as Cuccinelli spent 22 minutes outlining the president’s refugee decision.
According to the president’s determination issued Tuesday, refugees from Somalia, Syria and Yemen will only be allowed into the country for the same reasons given for any refugee: religious persecution or a well-founded fear of it, a U.S. Embassy referral, or family reunification.
So what’s really new here? It didn’t seem like much, other than the administration’s interest in talking to a reporter.
As for Cuccinelli’s job prospects and that GAO finding, all of that may come down to how things shake out Tuesday.