UPDATE: On Tuesday, the White House removed Mark Morgan from his position as Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and placed him in charge of Customs and Border Protection to replace outgoing Acting Commissioner John Sanders, according to the Washington Post.
Morgan will now head an agency that currently has thousands of migrant children in its care.
On Jan. 7, Fox News host Tucker Carlson said he had “found someone” who could bring a new perspective to the border wall debate. His guest, former Border Patrol chief Mark Morgan, flatly said that yes, border walls “absolutely work.”
It was a coup for Carlson, himself an immigration hardliner. Morgan led the Border Patrol for the last four months of the Obama administration but lost his position within days of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“You were taken out of your job by Donald Trump, but you’re here to tell us that a wall makes sense anyway?” Carlson said.
“Correct,” Morgan responded, then added: “The president is right.”
“I don’t know why we haven’t had you on earlier,” Carlson said, as the segment drew to a close. “That’s the most compelling case I’ve seen for this wall.”
Carlson soon corrected his oversight. A week later, Morgan returned to the show for what was already his third appearance. This time, he took aim at child migrants ― a group generally viewed with sympathy by even the toughest voices on immigration.
“I’ve been to detention facilities where I’ve walked up to these individuals that are so-called minors, 17 or under,” Morgan said. “I’ve looked at them and I’ve looked at their eyes, Tucker — and I’ve said that is a soon-to-be MS-13 gang member. It’s unequivocal.”
In the five months that followed, Morgan became Trump’s most prolific media cheerleader on immigration. He racked up nearly 100 television and radio appearances following his debut on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” running the gamut from CNN to conservative talk radio programs hosted by Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.
No outlet embraced him more wholeheartedly than Fox News, which portrayed him as a former Obama administration official who saw the light. Morgan has appeared at least 80 times on either the Fox News Channel or the affiliated Fox Business since January, according to a tally of transcripts compiled by the media monitoring site TV Eyes and footage gathered by American Bridge, a Democratic political action committee.
That figure amounts to an appearance on Fox News channels about every other day ― not including times the network recycled footage of his interviews.
The work paid off. Trump unexpectedly announced on May 5 that he would nominate Morgan to become the next director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which would put him in charge of deportations, immigrant detention and the agency’s investigative unit. (The White House, which did not respond to a request for comment, has yet to make the nomination official.)
But Morgan is hardly the authoritative voice on border policy that Fox News personalities like Carlson have portrayed him as. A former U.S. Marine and two-decade veteran of the FBI, Morgan served two brief stints with Customs and Border Protection ― first a temporary post establishing the agency’s internal affairs unit in 2014, and then four months heading the Border Patrol, a division of CBP, as the Obama administration drew to a close in 2016.
Over that time, Morgan never gained the trust of the Border Patrol agents’ union, which viewed him as an agency outsider who leapfrogged internal candidates whose careers began on the frontlines. The National Border Patrol Council’s president, Brandon Judd, called him a “disgrace” in a 2016 opinion piece and accused Morgan of blocking him from testifying before a Senate committee. Morgan was dismissed within days of taking office in a move likely influenced by the union, which took the unusual step of endorsing Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Judd served on Trump’s transition team.
Neither Morgan nor Judd responded to requests for comment.
But by blaring White House talking points in the media on a near daily basis, Morgan appeared to ingratiate himself with the administration that had fired him. He also repeatedly praised Judd, papering over their turbulent past. (Judd has warmed on Morgan since Trump’s announcement, telling CNN that Morgan’s career as an investigator would serve him well at ICE.)
In the process of gaining the president’s approval, however, Morgan created a record that may make it difficult for him to win Senate confirmation.
The influx of tens of thousands of Central American families isn’t just a “crisis,” Morgan said, it’s “the worst we’ve ever experienced in our history.” Migrant kids locked up in Border Patrol custody aren’t put in cages, he insisted more than once. The Trump administration “wasn’t separating families,” it was just following the law, Morgan said. Trump had “no choice” but to declare a national emergency to shore up funds for the border wall, he said. Congress could fix the problem at the border “in 15 minutes” by nixing the 1997 Flores settlement and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, he said, both of which restrict the amount of time that immigration authorities can lock children up in detention. The only problem with Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy of sending Central Americans back over the border while their asylum cases play out is that the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t use it enough, according to Morgan.
While claiming to steer clear of politics, Morgan heaped scorn on the same cast of characters portrayed as villains by the White House: proponents of “sanctuary” policies that limit cooperation with ICE, “activist judges” who thwart the president’s immigration policies, and those allegedly steeped in “identity politics” and committed to taking “steps toward open borders.”
And, of course, Mexico.
“When the president tells Mexico, ‘You need to get off the sidelines, do your darn job to be part of the solution here, or we’re shutting down the border’ ― I think he’s right on and I support him,” Morgan said in an April 27 appearance on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.”
Many of Morgan’s talking points are misleading or leave out key details. The Trump administration did implement a new policy designed to systematically separate families at the border last year and does keep migrant children locked up in Border Patrol custody before transferring them to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (the latter was true of past administrations as well). And Mexico has consistently expanded deportation of Central Americans heading toward the United States over the last five years in response to U.S. demands.
Fox News was among the first outlets to report that Morgan had come under consideration for the ICE post. On May 2, the idea of nominating him received an on-air blessing from Thomas Homan, the former acting director of ICE under Trump. (Homan is now a Fox News contributor, though he has appeared on air far less frequently in recent months than Morgan.)
“Mark Morgan is a friend of mine,” Homan said on “Fox & Friends.” “I think he should throw his hat in the ring. Why not? We need strong leadership.”
By May 4, Lou Dobbs was asking Morgan himself whether he would accept the position.
No one had asked him yet, Morgan said. But he’d be happy to receive the call.
“If this president asked me to come up, I’d say yes in a heartbeat,” Morgan said. “This isn’t based on ideology, this is based on 30 years of law enforcement, and I know this border. The president’s doing the right thing, he’s right on this issue, and if he asks, I’d go work for him in a heartbeat.”
The next day, Morgan got his wish.