Washington • President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated a Utahn who has railed against illegal immigration to serve as a top official at the State Department overseeing refugees and migration.
Trump tapped Bountiful’s Ronald Mortensen, a former career foreign service officer, to serve as the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, the White House said Thursday. The Senate must confirm Mortensen for the job.
Mortensen, who backed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for reducing immigrant populations and is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also cofounded the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, which bills itself as a group working to enact legislation that “addresses the negative impacts of illegal immigration.”
If confirmed, Mortensen would oversee the State Department bureau that provides aid for refugees, victims of conflicts and stateless people around the world.
Mortensen opposed President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was aimed at protecting immigrants — called Dreamers — who were brought to the United States as children, arguing that it rewarded “illegal aliens … for destroying the futures of innocent American children” because the immigrants must have used stolen identities to work.
“Dreamers often are portrayed as sympathetic young people trying to go to school, but that portrayal is often erroneous,” Mortensen wrote in The Hill newspaper last year. “It is important to remember that DACA applies to individuals up to age 31. The result is that many adult Dreamers have long since terminated their studies, and many have committed serious felonies that impact American men, women and children.”
Mortensen celebrated when Trump overturned Obama’s order.
The Trump edict, Mortensen said in a column posted by the Center for Immigration Studies, “destroys the myth of the noble, law abiding illegal alien and forces illegal aliens and their supporters to finally acknowledge that people illegally in the United States routinely commit multiple felonies and other serious violations of American law when they enter the country, get jobs, and obtain benefits reserved for citizens and legal residents.”
Mortensen declined to comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the nomination.
Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, a Utah-based Latino outreach group, said he was shocked Mortensen would be picked for the job.
“It’s pretty clear that he really doesn’t use facts about immigration when he’s talking about his extremely anti-immigrant agenda,” Garza said. “It’s pretty clear he doesn’t represent Utah values. I think it’s very concerning for somebody like him to be in such an important position that works with immigrants and refugees.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, declined to comment. Sen. Mike Lee’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The website UtahStandardNews.com, which has several posts from Mortensen, says he has a doctorate, served in the Air Force and in the foreign service. It also says Mortensen was on the White House advance team that organized the summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev that began the end of the Cold War.
The website also says that Mortensen was recognized by the State Department for handling a crisis in Chad.
Correction: 10:25 p.m. May 24: An earlier version of this story misspelled Luis Garza's name.