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Trump Nominates Anti-Immigrant Zealot to Run Department on Refugees

Senate hearing
Senate hearing
Brian Tashman,
Former Deputy Division Director,
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May 25, 2018

UPDATE: In January, President Trump renominated Ronald Mortensen to be an assistant secretary of state at the State Department.

This week, President Trump announced that he has nominated Ronald Mortensen to be the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, a move that further cements Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant agenda.

Mortensen must be confirmed by the Senate to oversee the State Department’s bureau to protect refugees, victims of conflict, and some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Yet Mortensen’s record directly undermines the bureau’s core mission. Senators should be alarmed by Mortensen’s fiercely xenophobic rhetoric and long history of undermining the rights of refugees and immigrants.

He founded the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration and serves as a senior fellow for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which is notorious for peddling dubious research on the supposed harms caused by immigrants. The CIS has supported Trump’s attacks on refugees and said that the government should prioritize non-Muslim refugees. Trump adviser Stephen Miller even cited a discredited CIS study to defend the administration’s Muslim ban. One CIS official backed a plan resembling “modern-day slave labor” to make incarcerated people build Trump’s southern border wall.

Mortensen shares CIS’ hardline views and has authored several troubling pieces for the group espousing these positions. For example, Mortensen believes it is “immoral” to grant any legal status to undocumented immigrants because they, in his words, “routinely commit multiple felonies” while residing in the U.S. Mortensen similarly criticized the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by vilifying Dreamers as criminals.

Mortensen called on Utah to repeal a law allowing the children of undocumented immigrants who live in Utah to pay in-state tuition when attending public colleges and universities. Instead, he urged state lawmakers to replicate Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law, which authorized police to demand papers proving citizenship or immigration status from anyone they stop and suspect of being in the country unlawfully. It invited rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans, and others presumed to be “foreign” based on how they look or sound.

Doing little to hide his bigotry, Mortensen once sharply attacked Utah’s first Latina state senator, Luz Robles Escamilla, by insisting that she must “decide where her loyalties lie—is she a Utah State Senator representing the legal residents of Utah or is she is a representative of illegal aliens and the government of Mexico serving as a Utah State Senator.”

He said that her advocacy for the rights of immigrants helps facilitate “the criminal activity of illegal alien drug dealers who prey on Utah children” and is “sacrificing innocent Utah children for the benefit of illegal aliens,” including “human traffickers, sexual predators, identity thieves, gang members and a wide range of other criminals.”

He also went after Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.) over his years of work on behalf of immigration reform, saying that his “support for illegal aliens” will cause him to be seen as an ISIS “collaborator” who rolled out the red carpet for “ISIS terrorists on the Mexican side of the border with car bombs ready to go.”

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) have also faced his wrath, with Mortensen pillorying Flake as an “illegal alien crime denier” and Rubio as “exceptionally gullible or just plain dishonest” over their work on immigration bills.

Mortensen has even questioned the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for baptizing undocumented immigrants and appointing them to ecclesiastical positions like missionaries.

While Mortensen has little empathy for immigrants, he does believe there is one victim of today’s politics: Donald Trump. He calls Trump the target of “a silent coup d’etat,” engineered by government officials and the media, which may ultimately lead to violence.

Senators should ask Mortensen about his extreme hostility towards immigrants and his Trumpian rhetoric that demonizes immigrants as criminals. They should be skeptical of any attempt, by Mortensen or his supporters, to play down his extreme views.

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