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Ex-Homeland Security Employee Says Department Mission Has Changed Under Trump


We're going to hear now from Travis Olsen. He recently quit his job with the Department of Homeland Security because he says he came to believe that, under the Trump administration, the Department is intimidating and mismanaged and acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the country's longstanding values. He published an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle about his decision to leave DHS after nearly a decade. And he's now running for Congress as a Democrat. Travis Olsen, thanks so much for joining us.

TRAVIS OLSEN: Well, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: First of all, could you just tell us what you did at DHS? And how long did you work there?

OLSEN: So I was at DHS for about a decade. And I had various roles, generally, with the Refugee, Asylum and International Affairs Division. I was also the acting DHS attache at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

MARTIN: And you said you resigned because you could no longer be party to an intimidating, mismanaged and unwelcoming administration. Tell us about that. Was there a specific event or a series of events that made you feel that you could no longer work there?

OLSEN: Well, where to begin? Clearly, there has just been a series of issues - many well-documented in the media - which frankly have just undermined the mission and my role in it. One recent change that sticks out to me was the decision to give Border Patrol agents the workload of asylum officers. Now, this is at a time when the administration is telling us that there are unprecedented numbers at the border.

And for years, I've worked side-by-side with CBP. The Border Patrol is already stretched thin, and they need to focus on that workload. Giving them additional tasks and assignments - well, that's just a knee-jerk reaction and a short-sighted approach which frankly creates more problems than it solves. And that has just seemed to be the theme of this administration.

MARTIN: Well, you wrote about that in your piece. And you said that this is a clear attempt to replace the humanitarian mission of our protection laws with an enforcement objective. But this is where I think the president's supporters would say elections have consequences. I mean, the president made it clear from the moment he made his bid for office that he takes a dim view of immigration, broadly, at least from certain parts of the world. So, you know, by that standard, his point of view about this and his intention to make this a cornerstone of his policies is - should not have been a surprise. Would that be fair to say?

OLSEN: Well, I can't speak to a surprise. But here's the thing. We have real challenges - humanitarian and security challenges. And we need to find real solutions. The problem that I have seen is that this administration has used this issue as a political talking point instead of actually finding the solutions and the answers that we need to control our borders, protect our national security and treat people, humanely. The thing is we can achieve all of those goals at the same time.

MARTIN: You said in your piece that you don't really see yourself as a partisan or you had not, at least, during your time at DHS. But now you're running for Congress. So, you know, civil servants have run for Congress before. I mean, that's not unheard of. But tell me about that transition from saying you're not a partisan to overtly being a partisan.

OLSEN: Well, as a civil servant, we are in public service, and we simply serve the public regardless of who is in the White House. Adlai Stevenson. He's actually defined patriotism as not the fear of something but the love of something. And I love my country. I love its values and our freedoms. And I have seen people who have been oppressed, who have lived without civil rights, who have had their human rights violated. And so I am now standing up for the principles of democracy and liberty and freedom. And these are not partisan or political issues. They are American values, and they need to be defended.

MARTIN: That was Travis Olsen. He recently resigned from his role at the Department of Homeland Security. He wrote about this for the Houston Chronicle, and he's now running for Congress in Texas. Travis Olsen, thanks so much for talking to us.

OLSEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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