[Marxism] How McKinsey Helped the Trump Administration Carry Out Its Immigration Policies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Dec 4 08:55:32 MST 2019

NY Times, Dec. 4, 2019
How McKinsey Helped the Trump Administration Carry Out Its Immigration 
By Ian MacDougall

This article is copublished with ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative 

Just days after he took office in 2017, President Trump set out to make 
good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of 
executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be 
shifted to border detention facilities, and called for hiring 10,000 new 
immigration officers.

The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its 
payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on 
under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational 
transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who 
are in the United States unlawfully.

ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how 
to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration.

But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made 
some career ICE workers uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on 
food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of 
detainees, according to interviews with people who worked on the project 
for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the 
agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information 

McKinsey’s team also looked for ways to accelerate the deportation 
process, provoking worries among some ICE staff members that the 
recommendations risked short-circuiting due-process protections for 
migrants fighting removal from the United States. The consultants, three 
people who worked on the project said, seemed focused solely on cutting 
costs and speeding up deportations — actions whose success could be 
measured in numbers — with little acknowledgment that these policies 
affected thousands of human beings.

In what one former official described as “heated meetings” with McKinsey 
consultants, agency staff members questioned whether saving pennies on 
food and medical care for detainees justified the potential human cost.

But the consulting firm’s sway at ICE grew to the point that McKinsey’s 
staff even ghostwrote a government contracting document that defined the 
consulting team’s own responsibilities and justified the firm’s 
retention, a contract extension worth $2.2 million. “Can they do that?” 
an ICE official wrote to a contracting officer in May 2017.

The response reflects how deeply ICE had come to rely on McKinsey’s 
assistance. “Well it obviously isn’t ideal to have a contractor tell us 
what we want to ask them to do,” the contracting officer replied. But 
unless someone from the government could articulate the agency’s 
objectives, the officer added, “what other option is there?” ICE 
extended the contract.

The New York Times reported last year that McKinsey ultimately did more 
than $20 million in consulting work for ICE, a commitment to one of the 
Trump administration’s most controversial endeavors that raised concerns 
among some of McKinsey’s employees and former partners. The firm’s 
global managing partner, Kevin Sneader, assured them in a 2018 email 
that the firm had never focused on developing, advising or implementing 
immigration policies. He said McKinsey “will not, under any 
circumstances, engage in work, anywhere in the world, that advances or 
assists policies that are at odds with our values.”

But the new documents and interviews reveal that the firm was deeply 
involved in executing policies fundamental to the Trump administration’s 
immigration crackdown. McKinsey’s recommendations for spending cuts went 
too far for some career ICE employees, and a number of the proposals 
were never carried out.

McKinsey has faced mounting scrutiny over the past two years, as reports 
by The Times, ProPublica and others have raised questions about whether 
the firm has crossed ethical and legal lines in pursuit of profit. The 
consultancy returned millions of dollars in fees after South African 
authorities implicated it in a profiteering scheme. The exposure of its 
history advising opioid makers on ways to bolster sales prompted the 
usually secretive firm to declare publicly that its opioid work had 
ended. Last month, The Times reported that McKinsey’s bankruptcy 
practice is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. The firm 
has denied wrongdoing in each case, but apologized for missteps in South 

“The scope of our work, contractually agreed to during the Obama 
administration, was designed to help the agency find ways to operate 
more effectively and cost-efficiently,” a McKinsey spokesman said of the 
firm’s consulting for ICE. “The focus of our work did not change as a 
result of these executive orders. The assertion that McKinsey’s work was 
‘redirected’ because of these orders is inaccurate.”

In a statement, an ICE spokesman, Bryan D. Cox, said McKinsey’s work 
“yielded measurable improvements in mission outcomes, including a 
notable decrease in the time to remove aliens with a final order of 

McKinsey responded quickly to Mr. Trump’s executive orders on 
immigration. On Feb. 13, the consultants presented ICE officials a set 
of “initiatives to improve ICE Hiring and address the Executive Order,” 
according to an accompanying slide deck.

Hiring 10,000 immigration officers was an immense undertaking, and 
similar attempts to swiftly ramp up staffing, under the administrations 
of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, ended badly. They resulted in lax 
hiring standards, according to experts, and a subsequent spike in 
misconduct and corruption cases among Border Patrol officers.

To expedite the process in 2017, McKinsey proposed hiring en masse, 
including what the consultants called “super one-stop hiring”: ICE could 
rent a gymnasium or similar space and compress the recruitment, 
screening and hiring process into a single day. The consultants, they 
wrote in a slide deck, aimed “to reduce time to hire by 30-50% (hundreds 
of days)” — significantly improving ICE’s capability to staff the 
president’s immigration crackdown.

By the summer of 2017, according to contracting records and a former ICE 
official, the agency had begun to adopt McKinsey’s proposals to speed up 
hiring. (ICE has hired only a fraction of the 10,000 officers called for 
because of budget constraints.)

Within months, McKinsey was making significant strides toward advancing 
the Trump administration’s policy goals. The firm’s work showed 
“quantifiable benefits,” ICE officials stated in an October 2017 
contracting document, “including increased total removals and reductions 
in time to remove a detainee.”

As some McKinsey consultants worked on the staffing challenge, others 
took aim at the logistical hurdles posed by an expected influx of 
detainees flowing from the Trump administration’s directive to enforce 
immigration laws more strictly.

The consulting team became so driven to save money, people involved in 
the project say, that consultants sometimes ignored — and even 
complained to agency managers about — ICE workers who said that 
McKinsey’s cost-cutting proposals risked jeopardizing the health and 
safety of migrants.

Mr. Cox, the ICE spokesman, denied that McKinsey’s recommendations could 
harm the well-being or due-process rights of detainees. McKinsey’s 
spokesman said the firm’s work had aimed to identify where 
detention-center contractors were overcharging ICE — long a concern of 
watchdog agencies — and to propose remedies.

McKinsey, the firm’s presentations show, pursued “detention savings 
opportunities” in blunt ways. The consultants encouraged ICE to adopt a 
“longer-term strategy” with “operational decisions to fill low-cost beds 
before expensive beds.” In practice, that meant shunting detainees to 
less expensive — and sometimes less safe — facilities, often rural 
county jails.

“There’s a concerted effort to try to ship folks ICE sees as long-term 
detainees to these low-cost facilities run by local sheriffs’ offices 
where conditions are abysmal,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney 
at the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on issues involving 
the detention of immigrants. The A.C.L.U. has brought several lawsuits 
against ICE, including over its detention policies, during the Trump 

McKinsey also looked to cut costs by lowering standards at ICE detention 
facilities, according to an internal ICE email and two former agency 
officials. McKinsey, an ICE supervisor wrote in an email dated March 30, 
2017, was “looking for ways to cut or reduce standards because they are 
too costly,” albeit, the supervisor added, “without sacrificing quality, 
safety and mission.”

The consultants found it difficult to attach a dollar figure to the 
standards themselves, the former ICE officials said. So they shifted 
their focus to trimming operating costs at several detention centers and 
coaching agency officials as they renegotiated contracts with companies 
managing some of those facilities. The renegotiated contracts saved ICE 
$16 million, according to Mr. Cox, the ICE spokesman, who insisted that 
no “degradation to service” resulted.

One of Mr. Trump’s executive orders had directed immigration agencies to 
concentrate resources near the southern border, and the consultants 
prioritized slashing costs at those facilities.

The McKinsey proposals that most troubled agency workers — like cutting 
spending on food, medical care and maintenance — were not incorporated 
into the new contracts, one former ICE official said. Internal project 
emails point to cutbacks in guard staffing as the source of most cost 

But the McKinsey recommendations remain on the books at ICE. The 
consultants analyzed how the agency could save money at detention 
centers beyond those where they helped renegotiate contracts — including 
several near the border, like ICE’s largest family-detention facility, 
in Dilley, Texas — and Mr. Cox said these analyses remain reference 
points for future efforts to curb spending. A report issued this summer 
by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general raised 
concerns about food quality and upkeep at several ICE facilities, both 
categories on which McKinsey recommended ICE spend less.

McKinsey’s work at ICE ended in July 2018. Among agency officials, there 
was growing dissatisfaction with the consultants’ work, and leadership 
turnover in the agency had left the consulting firm with few defenders, 
two former ICE officials said.

But the firm’s work supporting the Trump administration’s immigration 
clampdown has continued. Just a week after Mr. Sneader announced that 
the ICE engagement was over, McKinsey signed a $2 million contract to 
advise Customs and Border Protection as it drafted a new border strategy 
to replace the Obama administration’s approach, and it has since signed 
still another contract with C.B.P. — worth up to $8.4 million — that 
will keep the firm at the agency at least through September 2020.

Among the border strategy priorities listed in McKinsey slide decks for 
the C.B.P. are: “invest in impedance and denial capability,” “work with 
partner agencies and components to maximize programs that discourage 
illegal entries” and, in one instance, simply, “Wall.”

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