Donald Trump gave a special shout-out during his remarks in Grand Rapids, Mich., this week, saying he wanted to “pay tribute” to a person he very much respected. 

Trump thanked Tom Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement during his administration who has since been a frequent commentator on Fox News.

“He is some man,” Trump said, adding, “He has been so great on television. He’s been so respectful of the job that we did as an administration.”

Homan was an early proponent of the administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy, which resulted in at least 5,500 families being separated at the southern border in 2018 before Trump himself signed an executive order ending the practice after intense backlash from human rights groups. Homan now heads up Border911, a nonprofit group that warns of the supposed threat posed by undocumented immigrants.

On Thursday, the former president is set to see him again at a Mar-a-Lago gala hosted by Border911. According to a flyer promoting the event, the gathering will also include Matt Whitaker — who served as chief of staff at the Department of Justice when it implemented “zero tolerance.” Later, when Whitaker testified before Congress as acting attorney general, he conceded there was no plan to reunite families.

Trump’s open-armed association with the group — and his intensifying focus on migrants and crime on the campaign trail — provide one of the clearest windows yet into a potential second term and the hard-liners he might appoint to the Department of Homeland Security to enforce immigration laws.

In campaign rallies and interviews with Newsmax and Fox News, Trump has said he’d put Homan and others back into a potential second administration “to have great border security.” 

According to the invitation, another expected attendee Thursday night is Rodney Scott, who served as Border Patrol chief during Trump’s last year in office and has defended “zero tolerance” by arguing that it was effective in slowing down migration. As NBC News previously reported, Scott explored the idea of placing buoys in the Rio Grande to deter migrants years before Texas actually did it.

Trump has laid out an aggressive immigration platform for a second term: mass deportations; restoring all the border policies of his first term; deploying all necessary military assets, including the U.S. Navy, to impose a full naval embargo on drug cartels; ordering the Department of Defense to use special forces, cyber warfare and other covert and overt actions to dismantle cartel leadership and infrastructure; designating the major drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations; and asking Congress to ensure drug smugglers and traffickers can receive the death penalty.

His campaign has also said Trump would sign an executive order on his first day in office “to stop federal agencies from granting automatic U.S. citizenship to the children of illegal aliens” and to stop “birth tourism.” He’d also prioritize blocking federal grants to so-called “sanctuary cities.” 

One policy Trump has not promised is a return to “zero tolerance” or family separations.  To date, hundreds — and possibly more than 1,000 — families separated under zero tolerance remain separated, according to Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney for the ACLU representing the separated families in a class action lawsuit. The policy separated families who crossed the border together and federally prosecuted parents, while sending children to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Still, Trump has declined to take a clear stance on the issue. When asked whether he’d reinstate the policy during a CNN town hall in May, he didn’t answer directly. 

“When you have that policy, people don’t come,” he said. “If a family hears that they’re going to be separated, they love their family, they don’t come.” 

When pressed whether that meant he would reinstate the policy, Trump said: “No.  When you say to a family that if you come, we’re going to break you up, they don’t come. And we can’t afford to have any more.” 

During a separate interview with Univision in November 2023, Trump said: “We did family separation. A lot of people didn’t come. It stopped people from coming.”

Danielle Alvarez, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign, did not respond to a request for comment specifically on the former president’s position on family separations in a second term; she instead passed along a link to Trump’s broad immigration platform. 

The spokesperson also did not respond when asked about the Border911 event Thursday night at Mar-a-Lago. According to the invitation, individual tickets for the event range from $1,200 to $5,000. Tables of 10 are priced as high as $50,000. 

The Border911 Foundation received its charitable tax exemption from the IRS last August. But IRS rules are very clear that charities can’t endorse candidates, saying in its guidelines that charitable organizations “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” If there are violations, the IRS can revoke a charity’s status, according to the agency’s website. At this point, it’s unclear how the organizers will introduce Trump at the event at Mar-a-Lago.

Questions about Border911’s tax exemption were first reported by ABC News.

Neither Homan nor an attorney for Border911 could be reached for comment.

Polls show that voters consistently see Trump as doing a better job on border security than Biden. Still, the Biden campaign has been eager to point out what it sees as inhumane immigration policies of the Trump administration. 

“As president, Donald Trump separated families, ripping mothers away from their children,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who is a co-chair of the Biden campaign. “Now, he’s campaigning with the architects of that same cruel and un-American family separation policy, leaving little doubt that he will bring it back if given the chance.”

Immigrant advocates worry about what Trump’s re-election would mean for undocumented immigrants not just at the border but in the nation’s interior cities — as well as DACA recipients. The program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA — protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. from deportation. Beatriz Lopez, deputy director of the Immigration Hub, an advocacy organization, said Thursday’s event at Mar-a-Lago was a sign of things to come in a second Trump administration.

“I take it very seriously when he says that immigrants are animals,” she said. “So that means he’s going to treat them like animals and that is a very, very concerning thought that we should all be seeing as a real threat to our democracy.”

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