The former director of one of the nation’s most prominent anti-immigrant groups seems like an unlikely choice to provide assistance to those who run into difficulties with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
But that is the choice Trump’s Department of Homeland Security made when it tapped Julie Kirchner, formerly of the Foundation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to serve as the agency’s ombudsman.
FAIR is best known for the audaciously xenophobic comments of its senior executives, including founder John Tanton, an open proponent of eugenics who once declared that the future of the United States hinged on it retaining a “European-American majority.”
Kirchner has not made those sorts of remarks. She is fond of referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens,” and spent 10 years at FAIR while the organization was involved in high-profile battles to end birthright citizenship as enshrined in the 14th Amendment and to require police officers to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
Now, she will be tasked with providing recourse to thousands of immigrants (and their employers) whose citizenship or visa applications have been delayed or improperly rejected.
Asked Monday whether Kirchner was suited for this role, Maria Odom, who served as ombudsman in the Obama administration, laughed.
“These are special times, right?” Odom told TPM, calling her an “ill fit” and “poor match.”
“The statute that guides the work of that office makes it very clear that whoever is in that position should be someone who has immigration knowledge and a background in customer service, which I don’t believe Ms. Kirchner has,” she explained.
DHS did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
Kirchner joined FAIR in 2005 as director of government relations and was promoted to executive director in 2007. She retained that top post until August 2015, when she became an early addition to Donald Trump’s campaign, serving as an adviser on immigration.
Her tenure there saw Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration and the construction of a “big, beautiful wall” on the border with Mexico. Trump’s proclamations about high rates of violent crimes committed by and abuse of social welfare programs by undocumented immigrants could have been ripped from a FAIR press release.
In a September campaign statement, Kirchner said that Obama’s plan to accept Syrian refugees into the United States provided “ISIS a path for their terrorists to enter the country” and argued that that “instead of providing free healthcare to millions of refugees, we must focus on rebuilding our inner cities and bringing jobs back to America.”
Kirchner formally joined the Trump administration in February as an “advisor to the commissioner’s office” in the Customs and Border Protection agency.
Breitbart News has cheered the appointment of an “immigration hawk” to a senior position in the administration.
In her new role, Kirchner will serve as a liaison for immigrants and their employers who can’t get their immigration cases to a resolution. Kirchner will also be tasked with submitting an annual report to Congress addressing systemic issues with the Department of Homeland Security and offering recommendations to fix them.
The ombudsman is supposed to be an entirely independent figure who can provide a clear-eyed assessment of DHS without being swayed by agency leadership or the White House. The DHS secretary does not review the annual report before it is sent over to Congress.
During the Obama administration, the office’s workload ballooned. In 2012, the ombudsman assisted with some 3,600 cases, and according to Odom, the ombudsman is on track to handle some 15,000 cases.
While Odom said she would wait until Kirchner settled into the role before casting judgment, she feared her appointment would have a “chilling effect” on immigrants seeking help from the government.
“This stands to erode the confidence and trust we’ve created as an independent office at DHS where people can go with real problems,” she said.