5 Immediate Steps To Rein in DHS in the Wake of Portland

The recent actions by U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel on the streets of Portland, Oregon, and across the country raise significant concerns about a department out of control.

In this article
 (People gather to protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon, on July 27, 2020.)
People gather to protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland, Oregon, on July 27, 2020. (Getty/Spencer Platt)

Introduction and summary

In recent months, Americans have looked on in disbelief as unidentified and camouflaged U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel roamed the streets of Portland, Oregon, using unmarked vans to arrest U.S. citizens who exercised their First Amendment right to protest.1 Calls to restructure, dismantle, or defund DHS have come from across the political spectrum in the aftermath of these harmful and alarming actions. Tom Ridge, who served as the first secretary of homeland security during the George W. Bush administration, warned that DHS was not created to serve as “the president’s personal militia.” From the perspective of a former governor, Ridge also said that “it would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities.”2 Former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed that her vote to create the department was a mistake. As Boxer explained, the authorizing legislation contained no protections to ensure that the expansive powers entrusted to DHS could not be used to create a federal police force that terrorizes American citizens in American cities or to carry out gratuitously cruel policies such as taking children from their parents at the border.3 Ridge’s successor at DHS, Michael Chertoff, similarly cautioned that using DHS personnel to conduct general “police operations” over the objection of state and local officials—particularly as a “political maneuver” against cities run by an opposing political party—raises series legal and moral concerns.4

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There is no particular reason to believe that Congress got it exactly right 18 years ago when it voted to create DHS. In fact, there is significant evidence that they rushed to cobble together the behemoth department from 22 distinct federal agencies serving disparate functions in the wake of 9/11.5 The department was indeed forged at a time of significant national fear—the same fear that contributed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a decision that had devastating consequences for U.S. national security and human rights.6 While the Bush administration’s proposal to create DHS promised that the agency would “Improve Efficiency Without Growing Government,”7 the opposite has occurred. Still, it was not until the events in Portland in July that the idea of seriously reexamining DHS’ future picked up steam from across the political spectrum.8

A top-to-bottom review of DHS is badly needed and long overdue but is beyond the scope of this report. Over the years, a small number of nongovernmental organizations have taken up the challenge, some adopting a more reform-orientated position and others calling for outright abolition of the department.9 As the U.S. House of Representatives was preparing to take up the department’s fiscal year 2021 funding bill, before it was pulled from consideration, Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) filed with the House Rules Committee an amendment that would allocate $2,000,000 to commission a study by the National Academy of Public Administration of options for dissolving the department and transferring its functions to other federal departments or to one or more new independent agencies.10 Conducting such an analysis is, of course, only the first step; building the political will to move a massive reorganization bill through Congress would be its own substantial challenge. But even as the work to achieve meaningful transformation continues, the recent events in Portland that captured national attention highlight the urgent need for immediate reforms. Here, the Center for American Progress identifies five immediate steps that the next administration and Congress should take to begin to rein in the department and prevent its personnel from being inappropriately used in the future to serve as a general federal police force.

Warning signs and a rampant culture of impunity

Over the years, there have been many warning signs about dysfunction and a culture of abuse at DHS. There is a history of malicious behavior, including a lack of accountability for repeated abuses by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel;11 killings along and across the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting from the unjustified use of force, that have been allowed to go unpunished;12 families separated at the border and children dying in custody;13 talk about “tak[ing] the shackles off” ICE and Border Patrol personnel through new Trump administration policies;14 and fear across the nation of both real and threatened raids that have torn families and communities apart.15

But over the agency’s nearly 18-year lifespan, even as its abuses have grown, federal funding for DHS has increased year after year. Since at least 2006, the United States has spent more on immigration enforcement than on all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, and the gap has widened significantly during the Trump administration.16 The budgets of ICE and CBP have nearly tripled since DHS’ founding, with the number of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officers tripling and the Border Patrol nearly doubling in size.

Even where Congress has attempted to enforce its policy preferences on the department as part of the appropriations process, DHS has found ways to transfer or reprogram funds to get around these restrictions or has knowingly manipulated the appropriations process to pressure Congress to supplement the agency’s budget and effectively increase the agency’s baseline for the following year.17 Between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, ICE managed to increase its funding for detention and removal by nearly 28 percent—from $3.2 billion to $4.1 billion—largely by increasing detention capacity beyond appropriated limits, and then using the threat of releasing tens of thousands of detained people onto the streets to secure additional funding in final spending packages.18 Although the fiscal year 2018 law established detention funding levels designed to “require ICE to reduce the number of detention beds,” ICE instead increased the average daily population by nearly 20 percent; the agency even increased its detention population by several thousand beds in the middle of a partial government shutdown, stretching from December 2018 into January 2019, that covered DHS.19 Throughout the Trump administration, funds have been diverted from other important functions to support the administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. Funds appropriated to the U.S. Department of Defense and to military construction projects have been reprogrammed pursuant to various authorities, including an emergency declaration, to erect additional sections of border wall that Congress has expressly refused to fund.20 Additionally, in 2019, hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated by Congress to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Coast Guard were transferred—right at the beginning of hurricane season—to expand ICE’s detention capacity and build temporary shelters to expedite the deportation of asylum-seekers.21

While DHS’ immigration enforcement agencies have grown and received constant attention and scrutiny, other important functions of the agency that are truly critical to a homeland security mission have been woefully neglected.22 Although the department was created with a focus on countering foreign terrorist threats to the country, it has been slow to pivot as domestic terrorism—increasingly by white supremacists—has become a more significant and lethal threat to Americans’ lives.23 DHS is charged with helping to combat cybersecurity threats aimed at undermining U.S. democracy and compromising the country’s critical infrastructure, yet the department’s failures to guard even its own systems against cyberattacks have persisted for at least a decade.24 It is no surprise that DHS was unable to protect critical election infrastructure from foreign tampering during the most recent presidential election and will likely fail to prevent it in 2020 as well.25 While FEMA’s budget has increased significantly over the years, the agency’s poor response to natural disasters ranging from Hurricane Katrina26 to Hurricane Maria27—combined with its inability to effectively prepare the country for a pandemic that it largely foresaw28—is cause for significant concern, as climate change promises costlier and more extreme weather events and greater threat from pandemics.29 

All of this should come as little surprise. Multiple mission-critical objectives were thrown into a single department with little thought to how they would coexist, yet much of the national conversation around DHS focuses exclusively on just one part of the department’s mission: the immigration enforcement work of ICE and CBP. The outsize attention that immigration issues receive undermines core homeland security concerns, including by interfering with the ability of senior leadership to give proper attention to these other priorities. Further complicating necessary oversight regarding the department’s multitude of responsibilities is the fact that because more than 100 committees and subcommittees have jurisdiction over matters entrusted to DHS,30 the department can get inconsistent, mixed messages about congressional priorities. In 2013, former DHS Secretary Chertoff explained that when this happens, “[E]ither the department has no guidance or, more likely, the department ignores both because they’re in conflict. And so the department does what it wants to do.”31 Moreover, congressional oversight tends to focus on the issues getting the most public attention, which again results in disproportionate interest in immigration issues and disregard for higher-order matters. Immigration policy, too, has been distorted by the fact that since 9/11 and the creation of DHS, the issue has been framed first and foremost as a homeland security issue rather than as a multifaceted issue of central concern to American families and the American economy.

DHS abuses on the streets of Portland

As the nation reeled in outrage following the murders of Black people at the hands of the police—which have only continued in recent weeks—protests and uprisings over police brutality erupted in cities across the country. On the morning of July 4, federal officers and police clashed with protesters who had begun demonstrating in Portland, Oregon, in the aftermath of the unjustified police killing of George Floyd in late May. Quickly, videos surfaced of unidentified federal officers using excessive force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters, seemingly without cause.32 The mayor of Portland called the deployment of federal troops an abuse of power,33 and the Oregon attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal government for violating the civil rights of protesters, accusing its agencies of unlawful law enforcement practices.34 Following massive public outcry, Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the DHS deputy secretary,35 admitted that DHS was using unmarked vehicles to detain protesters in Portland far away from federal buildings, adding that the department would send more law enforcement personnel to Portland.36 Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a lawsuit charging federal officials, including DHS, with using excessive force and making unlawful arrests against lawful protestors, including several U.S. citizens who are veterans and others who identify as supporters of Black Lives Matter.37

When the administration decided to send a massive public show of force into Portland, it drew upon features embedded in the structure of DHS as well as the broad authorities given to department personnel. For instance, to justify the deployment of ICE and CBP officers and agents to perform a domestic law enforcement function that is outside their areas of responsibility, expertise, and training, DHS cross-designated large numbers of DHS personnel as Federal Protective Service (FPS) officers.38 The department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis—which, months earlier, successfully lobbied DHS leadership to cut the department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) out of the approving and reviewing chain for intelligence work39—also provided questionable intelligence support to Portland law enforcement officials and collected intelligence reports on journalists engaged in First Amendment-protected activity covering the federal government’s response to the protests.40

5 initial steps to reduce DHS abuses

 Since the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was enacted 18 years ago, DHS has not once been reauthorized. By contrast, Congress has passed an annual National Defense Authorization Act for nearly 60 consecutive years.41 What that means is that DHS has not—even in the most basic sense—undergone comprehensive congressional oversight and evaluation, with committees of jurisdiction regularly reviewing the department’s actions in service of its many missions and making necessary legislative changes to the department’s mandate and authorities. The next administration and Congress will both need to take a hard look at the structure of DHS from top to bottom and give serious thought to whether some of the department’s functions would be better accomplished within different government agencies or in new Cabinet-level departments. But in the meantime, there are five steps that policymakers should take to reduce abuses and prevent department personnel from once again being deployed to serve as a general federal police force as they were in Portland.

Significantly restrict DHS’ ability to designate CBP and ICE personnel as FPS

Congress should constrain the DHS secretary’s authority to cross-designate CBP and ICE personnel to act as FPS officers, and a future administration should use such designations judiciously. CBP and ICE personnel already have significant authority to make warrantless arrests for violations of federal law when they are performing duties related to the enforcement of the country’s immigration laws.42 But DHS’ decision to cross-designate large numbers of CBP and ICE agents and officers as FPS officers, with the thin veneer of justification in the guise of protecting federal property in Portland, allowed the department to send forces into the city with similarly expansive authority to make warrantless arrests.43 DHS personnel used that authority not only around federal buildings but also on the streets of Portland.44 This cross-delegation also gave largely untrained CBP and ICE personnel the responsibility of maintaining order during a protest involving First Amendment-protected activity.45

Restrict the Border Patrol to the actual border

CBP’s ability to operate far beyond the country’s land and maritime borders should be limited by statute and regulation. Under current law, CBP generally can take actions to prevent illegal border crossings only “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States.”46 Federal regulations generally define this “reasonable distance” to be a maximum of 100 air miles away from any border, land or sea, but allow agency personnel to determine where a shorter distance might be reasonable.47 Rather than delegate this decision, the regulatory process could be used to develop a sound basis for limiting the geographic range of CBP actions to a more “reasonable distance” from the border. As it stands, nearly 2 out of every 3 people in the country reside within 100 air miles of any land or maritime border, including large areas that no reasonable person would consider a border.48 Importantly, even this geographic limitation evaporates when a CBP officer or agent is designated to work for the FPS. CBP’s broad reach and expansive powers pose a substantial threat to civil liberties that has been exacerbated by a pervasive lack of accountability throughout the agency.49

Require state and local cooperation for domestic law enforcement operations involving ICE and CBP unrelated to their primary responsibilities

CBP and ICE personnel should not be sent on any domestic operation unrelated to their primary duties unless a request for assistance has been made by relevant state and local officials, and the contours of DHS’ role have been memorialized in a written memorandum of agreement. The importance of cooperation was highlighted by the fact that when federal personnel descended upon Portland over the objection of local officials, it only made the situation—which was coming under control—more volatile.50 Had the federal response been limited to uniformed and identifiable FPS personnel focused on protecting federal properties, the situation likely would not have gotten out of control. But the large numbers of unidentified federal officers in camouflage who engaged forcefully with protestors and journalists and arrested people in the streets in unmarked vans added a layer of complexity that undermined the authority of local officials and jeopardized their general police powers.

Enhance the authority, transparency, and independence of oversight bodies

Oversight entities working to improve the department and its components should be given greater independence and authority. CRCL, for instance, should be empowered to conduct robust investigations and be increasingly transparent with complainants and other stakeholders, including Congress.51 DHS should also restore CRCL’s rightful place in approving and reviewing activities by the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Legislation to authorize CRCL has strong bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and would strengthen the civil rights and civil liberties watchdog within the department, but the legislation should be reviewed and updated in the next Congress.52 The Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC), which provides advice and recommendations to the department on a range of topics, also should be revamped to include greater public engagement. HSAC’s 2016 final report and recommendations to enhance integrity at CBP and improve disciplinary processes would be a useful starting point for the next administration,53 and a similar study with a newly constituted HSAC should promptly be initiated with respect to ICE. A major challenge that the next administration will face when implementing reforms to the immigration enforcement practices of ICE and CBP is that the cultures of both agencies have been transformed during the current administration; top-to-bottom reviews by HSAC could play an important role in identifying changes to enhance integrity and accountability in the years ahead.

Reduce ICE’s and CBP’s budgets

As Congress reviews whether DHS as it is currently constituted can effectively meet the responsibilities it has been given, it should at the first opportunity reverse years of out-of-control spending on the department’s immigration enforcement components. The current decrease in the number of people detained in immigration facilities—even as more people must still be released without further delay to avoid additional preventable deaths54—provides a particular opportunity for Congress and a future administration to significantly scale back a detention system that has grown exponentially over the years. By reducing ICE’s and CBP’s funding to more reasonable levels, the country could direct those resources to important domestic priorities such as education, infrastructure, and the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


These five policy changes won’t immediately fix the issues that have plagued DHS for nearly 18 years, and far more work must be done to understand what the structure, oversight, authorities, and mission of a reformed DHS, or the various components of a dismantled DHS, would look like. But seeing anonymous federal troops kidnapping American citizens on the streets of an American city and using immigration enforcement personnel to attack American citizens exercising their right to protest—on top of years of abuses by ICE and CBP—illustrates just how immediate the need is to take interim actions to rein in DHS. These policy recommendations are just that—a start and a way to prevent future abuses of authority such as those that took place in Portland. The next administration and Congress would be wise to work to implement these changes as soon as possible even as it begins a thorough review of the department itself.

About the authors

Tom Jawetz is the vice president of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.

Philip E. Wolgin is the managing director of Immigration Policy at the Center.

Claudia Flores is the immigration campaign manager at the Center.


The authors thank Sofia Carratala for her research assistance and Ed Chung, Ur Jaddou, Kelly Magsamen, Katrina Mulligan, Lia Parada, and Chris Rickerd for their input.


  1. Jonathan Levinson and others, “Federal Officers Use Unmarked Vehicles To Grab People In Portland, DHS Confirms,” NPR, July 17, 2020, available at
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Ridge: ‘It would be a cold day in hell’ before I’d let ‘uninvited’ federal agents into cities,” July 22, 2020, available at
  3. Barbara Boxer, “Barbara Boxer: DHS was a mistake. I regret voting for it,” The Washington Post, July 25, 2020, available at
  4. Greg Sargent, “Trump’s authoritarian crackdown is so bad that even some in the GOP are blasting it,” The Washington Post, July 22, 2020, available at
  5. Susan B. Glasser and Michael Grunwald, “Department’s Mission Was Undermined From Start,” The Washington Post, December 22, 2005, available at; Edward Alden, The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security Since 9/11 (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).
  6. Despite the political climate in which the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was passed, it is notable that the legislation received far more opposition than the PATRIOT Act, which was enacted one year earlier. Whereas only one senator and 66 members of the House of Representatives opposed the latter, nine senators opposed passage of the Homeland Security Act and 132 members of the House from across the political spectrum voted against the bill when it first passed the House.
  7. George W. Bush, “The Department of Homeland Security” (Washington: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2002), p. 15, available at
  8. Nick Miroff, “DHS’s changing mission leaves its founders dismayed as critics call for a breakup,” The Washington Post, August 13, 2020, available at
  9. Compare: Thomas Warrick and Caitlin Durkovich, “Future of DHS Project: Key findings and recommendations” (Washington: Atlantic Council, 2020), available at; Carrie Cordero, “Reforming the Department of Homeland Security Through Enhanced Oversight and Accountability” (Washington: Center for a New American Security, 2020), available at; David Rittgers, “Abolish the Department of Homeland Security” (Washington: Cato Institute, 2011), available at
  10. U.S. House of Representatives, “Amendment to Division E of Rules Comm. Print 116-60, Offered by Mrs. Torres of California” (Washington: 2020), available at
  11. A.C. Thompson, “Years Ago, the Border Patrol’s Discipline System was Denounced as ‘Broken.’ It’s Still Not Fixed,” ProPublica, June 20, 2019, available at; Garrett M. Graff, “The Green Monster: How the Border Patrol became America’s most out-of-control law enforcement agency,” Politico, November/December 2014, available at; Franklin Foer, “How Trump Radicalized ICE,” The Atlantic, September 2018, available at; Eunice Cho, “DHS Watchdog Confirms: ICE is Failing to Protect Detained People from COVID,” American Civil Liberties Union, June 29, 2020, available at; Joshua Breisblatt, “Spike in Corruption Followed Last Hiring Surge at CBP and ICE,” Immigration Impact, April 25, 2017, available at; Justin Rohrlich, “Criminal misconduct by US border officers has reached a 5-year high,” Quartz, October 24, 2019, available at; Bryan Schatz, “New Report Details Dozens of Corrupt Border Patrol Agents–Just As Trump Wants to Hire More,” Mother Jones, April 24, 2018, available at
  12. Vanessa Romo, “Supreme Court Rules Border Patrol Agents Who Shoot Foreign Nationals Can’t Be Sued,” NPR, February 25, 2020, available at; Dana Liebelson, “A CBP Officer Shot A 21-Year-Old American In The Head. 6 Months Later, CBP Won’t Say Why,” HuffPost, August 19, 2019, available at; Cleve R. Wootson Jr., “Border agents beat an undocumented immigrant to death. The U.S. is paying his family $1 million,” The Washington Post, March 28, 2017, available at
  13. Office of Inspector General, “DHS Lacked Technology Needed to Successfully Account for Separated Migrant Families” (Washington: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2019), available at; Nomaan Merchant, “Deaths of 2 children raise doubts about US border agency,” The Associated Press, December 26, 2018, available at
  14. Eric Katz, “How Trump Will ‘Take the Shackles Off’ DHS Employees With New Immigration Policies,” Government Executive, February 21, 2017, available at
  15. Ari Shapiro, “Months After Massive ICE Raid, Residents Of A Mississippi Town Wait And Worry,” NPR, November 17, 2019, available at; Hamed Aleaziz and Adolfo Flores, “Not A ‘Brown Face’ To Be Seen As Immigrant Neighborhoods Brace For ICE Raids,” Buzzfeed, July 14, 2019, available at
  16. Muzaffar Chishti and Jessica Bolter, “As #DefundThe Police Movement Gains Steam, Immigration Enforcement Spending Practices Attract Scrutiny,” Migration Policy Institute, June 25, 2020, available at; American Immigration Council, “The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security” (Washington: 2020), available at
  17. Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes, “Trump administration aims to shift money to immigration enforcement,” Politico, August 14, 2019, available at
  18. National Immigrant Justice Center and Detention Watch Network, “By the Numbers: Manipulation of the Appropriations Process by DHS Fuels Detention Expansion” (Chicago and Washington: 2018), available at
  19. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations—Democrats, “FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act: Summary of Appropriations Provisions,” available at (last accessed August 2020); Tom Jawetz, Lia Parada, and Philip E. Wolgin, “What Should and Should Not Be in Any Homeland Security Funding Deal,” Center for American Progress, January 30, 2019, available at
  20. William L. Painter and Audrey Singer, “DHS Border Barrier Funding” (Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2020), available at
  21. Colleen Long, “Homeland Security raids Coast Guard coffers to pay for border programs,” The Associated Press, August 27, 2019, available at
  22. PBS, “Interview with David Lapan,” June 19, 2019, available at
  23. Betsy Woodruff Swan, “They tried to get Trump to care about right-wing terrorism. He ignored them,” Politico, August 26, 2020, available at; Nicole Einbinder, “The Trump administration has actually cut government resources to fight white supremacy and domestic terrorism,” Business Insider, August 6, 2019, available at; Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, “Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2019” (New York: 2020), available at
  24. Alex Johnson, “Federal cybersecurity defenses are critical failures, Senate report warns,” NBC News, June 26, 2019, available at
  25. U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, Volume 1: Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure With Additional Views” (Washington: 2019), available at; U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Election Security: DHS Plans Are Urgently Needed to Address Identified Challenges Before the 2020 Elections” (Washington: 2020), available at
  26. Office of Inspector General, “A Performance Review of FEMA’s Disaster Management Activities in Response to Hurricane Katrina” (Washington: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2006), available at
  27. Frances Robles, “FEMA Was Sorely Unprepared for Puerto Rico Hurricane, Report Says,” The New York Times, July 12, 2018, available at
  28. Thomas Frank, “FEMA Report Warned of Pandemic Vulnerability Months before COVID-19,” Scientific American, April 10, 2020, available at
  29. Kristina Costa, Miranda Peterson, and Howard Marano, “Extreme Weather, Extreme Costs: How Our Changing Climate Wallops Americans’ Wallets” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2017), available at; Abrahm Lustgarten, “How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease,” ProPublica, May 7, 2020, available at
  30. Henry H. Willis, “Streamlining Congressional Oversight of DHS,” RAND Corp., July 29, 2014, available at
  31. The Aspen Institute Justice and Society Program, “Task Force Report on Streamlining and Consolidating Congressional Oversight of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security” (Washington: 2013), available at Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), then a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, made a similar point in 2018, noting, “Fractured congressional oversight means no oversight in my opinion.” See Joseph Marks, “Senate DHS Reauthorization Bill Likely to Streamline Oversight, Include Election Security,” Nextgov, February 28, 2018, available at
  32. Amir Vera, Konstantin Toropin, and Josh Campbell, “US attorney requests DHS investigation after video shows masked, camouflaged federal authorities arresting protesters in Portland,” CNN, July 20, 2020, available at
  33. Mike Baker, “Federal Agents Envelop Portland Protest, and City’s Mayor, in Tear Gas,” The New York Times, July 23, 2020, available at
  34. Ellen Rosenblum v. John Does 1-10 et al, the United States Department of Homeland Security; United States Customs and Border Protection; the United States Marshals Service and the Federal Protective Service, 3:20-cv-01161-HZ, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon (July 17, 2020), available at
  35. On August 14, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a decision concluding that the appointment of Kenneth T. Cuccinelli to the position of senior official performing the duties of deputy secretary was invalid as a matter of law. See U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Matter of Department of Homeland Security—Legality of Service of Acting Secretary of Homeland Security and Service of Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security” (Washington: 2020), available at Previously, a federal court ruled that Cuccinelli’s separate appointment as the acting director of USCIS was illegal, and the administration dismissed its appeal of that decision one day prior to the GAO’s decision pertaining to Cuccinelli’s other purported title. See L.M.-M. et al., v. Cuccinelli et al., 442 F. Supp. 3d 1, 29 (D.D.C. 2020) and L.M.-M. et al., v. Cuccinelli et al., 20-5141, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (August 13, 2020), available at
  36. NPR, “DHS Official On Reports Of Federal Officers Detaining Protesters In Portland, Ore.,” July 17, 2020, available at
  37. Mark Pettibone et al., v. Donald J. Trump et al., 3:20-cv-1464, U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon (August 26, 2020), available at
  38. Betsy Woodruff Swan, Natasha Bertrand, and Daniel Lippman, “Trump administration weighs a show of force in more cities,” Politico, July 21, 2020, available at
  39. Betsy Woodruff Swan, “Cuccinelli relaxed oversight of DHS intel office,” Politico, August 2, 2020, available at
  40. Francis X. Taylor, “I Ran the DHS Intelligence Unit. Its Reports on Journalists are Concerning,” Lawfare, August 7, 2020, available at
  41. Valerie Heitshusen and Brendan W. McGarry, “Defense Primer: The NDAA Process” (Washington: Congressional Research Service, 2020), available at
  42. Legal Information Institute, “8 U.S. Code § 1357 – Powers of immigration officers and employees,” available at (last accessed August 2020).
  43. Legal Information Institute, “40 U.S. Code § 1315. Law enforcement authority of Secretary of Homeland Security for protection of public property,” available at (last accessed August 2020).
  44. U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, “The Right of the People Peaceably to Assembly: Protecting Speech by Stopping Anarchist Violence,” August 4, 2020, available at
  45. And indeed, former CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske has called the actions in Portland “undisciplined, unnecessary and excessive force.” See Maxine Bernstein, “Former U.S. Customs and Border Protection chief calls officers’ actions in Portland: ‘undisciplined, unnecessary and excessive force’,” The Oregonian, August 16, 2020, available at; Sergio Olmos, Mike Baker, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, “Federal Officers Deployed in Portland Didn’t Have Proper Training, D.H.S. Memo Said,” The New York Times, July 18, 2020, available at
  46. Legal Information Institute, “8 U.S. Code § 1357(a)(3).”
  47. Legal Information Institute, “8 CFR § 287.1 – Definitions,” available at (last accessed August 2020). A separate statutory provision allows CBP warrantless entry onto private property, excluding dwellings, within 25 miles of an external boundary. See Ibid.
  48. American Civil Liberties Union, “The Constitution in the 100-Mile Border Zone,” available at (last accessed August 2020). Despite the overly generous geographic limitations afforded to the border agency by statute and regulation, CBP actually maintains that its activities “are not geographically restricted by law.” See Melissa del Bosque, “Checkpoint Nation,” Texas Observer, October 8, 2018, available at
  49. Guillermo Cantor and Walter Ewing, “Still No Action Taken: Complaints Against Border Patrol Agents Continue to Go Unanswered” (Washington: American Immigration Council, 2017), available at
  50. Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman, “The Oregon governor wants federal officers out of Portland. Trump officials won’t listen. Why?”, The Washington Post, July 17, 2020, available at
  51. Scott Shuchart, “Building Meaningful Civil Rights and Liberties Oversight at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2019), available at
  52. Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Authorization Act, H.R. 4713, 116th Cong., 2nd sess. (March 11, 2020), available at
  53. Homeland Security Advisory Council, “Final Report of the CBP Integrity Advisory Panel” (Washington: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2016), available at
  54. Sofia Carratala and Tom Jawetz, “Federal Immigration Officials Must Take Immediate Action To Prevent Further Coronavirus Outbreaks at Detention Facilities,” Center for American Progress, May 1, 2020, available at

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 (Tom Jawetz)

Tom Jawetz

Senior Fellow

 (Phil Wolgin)

Philip E. Wolgin

Former Managing Director, Immigration Policy

Claudia Flores

Former Associate Director, Policy and Strategy