“I was just endorsed by ICE,” he boasted about two-thirds of the way through the presidential debate, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “They’ve never endorsed anybody before on immigration. I was just endorsed by ICE. I was just recently endorsed—16,500 Border Patrol agents.”
It would have been a historic endorsement. If it had actually happened. But it didn’t.
“Per the Hatch Act, federal agencies are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activity including the endorsement of any candidate for office,” said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not and will not endorse any candidate for office.”
So Trump’s statement at the debate wasn’t just false; it was patently ludicrous. ICE is the federal agency responsible for enforcing America’s immigration laws (as its name would suggest). ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and its agents oversee deportations and border enforcement.
And it is completely, entirely, undebatably illegal for federal agencies—including ICE—to endorse political candidates. This isn’t complicated or obscure; it’s been the law since 1939, when Congress passed the Hatch Act to keep executive agencies from getting involved in politics. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of how the Executive Branch works knows about this law.
Trump seemed to have no idea it exists. Last night, he confidently stated that the federal agency responsible for deportations backs his candidacy. As with most of Trump’s misstatements, there was a nugget of truth, of course. A few hours before the debate, Trump’s campaign announced the union that represents ICE agents endorsed him. But that isn’t the same thing, at all, as ICE itself.
Of course, it’s understandable that ICE’s union would like Trump. In his immigration proposal—a document he may or may not have read, according to conservative immigration researcher Mark Krikorian—he promises to triple the number of ICE agents, which would dramatically expand the agency’s budget. That would be a dream come true for the ICE union.
Trump’s supporters who are angry about the terrible reviews he got during the debate spent Tuesday morning complaining that he didn’t get questions about immigration. For instance, Wayne Allyn Root, a Trump supporter and former Libertarian Party vice-presidential nominee, suggested the candidate would have done better if he had been able to talk more about the issue.
“Not 1 question about GDP at near zero,” he tweeted. “Not 1 question about immigration. Debate meant to hurt Trump. All negative questions. Terrible.”
But when Trump did get a chance to bring up immigration, he said something completely boneheaded. Instead of talking up his immigration plan, Trump accidentally accused his endorsers’ workplace of violating the Hatch Act. As Rick Perry might have said, “Oops.”