Fox contributor Tom Homan is the “intellectual ‘father’” of family separation

Tom Homan with a Fox News logo

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

Fox News contributor Tom Homan was the “intellectual ‘father’” of the Trump administration’s depraved policy of seeking to deter migration by systematically separating thousands of migrant families that crossed the border together illegally, according to a new investigation published Sunday by The Atlantic’s Caitlin Dickerson. 

Homan, formerly the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is a fixture on Fox, where he has made at least 303 weekday appearances since joining the network in August 2018. He is readily available when Fox’s xenophobic hosts need someone to blame President Joe Biden’s immigration policies for murders, COVID-19 infections, or “human trafficking, child trafficking, [and] sex trafficking,” while lauding former President Donald Trump for implementing “the most secure border” of Homan’s lifetime. He is also a regular presence at Republican Party events and right-wing conferences.

Dickerson’s magisterial account, based on “more than 150 interviews” and “thousands of pages of internal government documents,” provides the most comprehensive explanation yet of the Trump administration’s “Zero Tolerance” initiative. 

She traces the idea of family separation as a migrant deterrent to Homan, reporting that he first proposed it as a senior ICE official at a 2014 meeting with Jeh Johnson, President Barack Obama’s secretary of Homeland Security, and other top immigration officials. “This makes Tom Homan the father of what might be the Trump administration’s most controversial policy,” she writes. Johnson rejected the idea, telling Dickerson that it was not only “heartless” but “impractical,” as the government lacked the capacity to adequately house the migrant children. 

But when Trump was elected president after running a virulently anti-immigrant campaign, Homan’s idea returned to the fore. He rose to acting director of ICE in the days after Trump’s inauguration and played a key role in pushing more hesitant administration officials to launch the initiative, insisting that his agency had the necessary resources to implement it, Dickerson reports. 

Family separations began through a pilot program launched in March 2017, though Zero Tolerance was not formally adopted as a national policy by then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen until the spring of 2018. The result was a disaster: The program’s implementation was catastrophic; its public revelation triggered a media firestorm; congressional Republicans ran for cover; Trump signed an incoherent executive order pulling back on the policy; and by the end of June, separations had stopped. But the damage Homan and his allies inflicted is ongoing – Dickerson reports that “approximately 700 families still have not been officially reunited,” and many children have been traumatized. 

Homan had been a frequent presence on Fox following Trump’s inauguration, regularly appearing on its programs to spread misinformation about immigration, praise the president’s efforts to curtail it, and smear undocumented migrants as potential criminals and terrorists. Notably, he defended the Trump administration’s family separation policy during Fox interviews, falsely claiming that it was an extension of an Obama-era initiative and using a misleading statistic to suggest that in large numbers of family separation cases, the adults were only pretending to be the parents of the children.

Homan retired from ICE at the end of June 2018, and that August, Fox rewarded him with a job as a network contributor. As one of at least 13 former members of the Trump orbit now employed by Fox, he regularly appears on the network to provide his right-wing views on immigration policy.

Homan’s central role in the mass theft of children makes him an even better fit at Fox, which has vigorously defended that inhumane policy since it first became a major national story in the final weeks of his tenure at ICE. The policy drew particular support from the co-hosts of Fox & Friends, the show Trump typically used as his morning briefing.

“Criminals are separated from their kids every day in this country,” Steve Doocy, the father of three adult children, said during a June 18, 2018, segment. “It’s just not extraordinary. But the headline is, you know, if you watch a lot of other channels, they’re talking about how these children are being ripped from their families. The part that is troubling though, is the conscious decision that the parents are making. … There’s a zero tolerance policy now, and the kids and the families will not be kept intact if they break the law.”

“We do have sympathy for those parents. I mean, who wouldn’t? You don’t want a parent to be separated from their child,” replied Ainsley Earhardt, whose daughter was at the time not yet three years old. “But you’re right, if they make the choice to do it, there are consequences.”

Trump frequently made federal policy on the basis of what he saw on Fox and heard from its hosts, particularly with regard to immigration. His Fox obsession repeatedly raised the possibility that children would once again be torn from their parents’ arms. “Throughout the remainder of his presidency, Trump pushed to relaunch family separations,” Dickerson reports, with Trump issuing demands to do so “generally while watching Fox News” but later backing down.

The machinery to reinstitute family separation remains intact, waiting only for Trump or another Republican president to use it. If and when that happens, Homan will either be back in government helping to steal children from their parents, or on Fox, cheering on the implementation of his foul creation.