Mike Pompeo Sworn in as 70th Secretary of State

Melsida Asatrian's picture

On March 31, 2018, Mike Pompeo was confirmed by the United States Senate by a vote of 57-42 as the 70th U.S. Secretary of State. The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is responsible for visa issuance abroad and plays a significant role in many immigration programs, making the Secretary of State a highly significant figure in immigration law. In this post, we will discuss Secretary Pompeo's background and some of his previously articulated positions on immigration policy.

You may watch Secretary Pompeo's first address to DOS employees below:

Secretary Pompeo had been serving as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since January 23, 2017. Prior to his service in the Trump Administration, Pompeo served three full terms as a United States Representative from Kansas's 4th Congressional District, and he was just beginning his fourth term when he left Congress to take over as CIA Director. Pompeo graduated first from his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986. After completing his military service, he obtained a law degree from Harvard University. In between his military service, his work in law, and his time in government, Pompeo also worked in business, notably founding an aeronautics company and serving as its CEO for over a decade. You may see his biography on the DOS website [PDF version].

As a member of Congress, Pompeo consistently voted for strengthening immigration enforcement and opposed a path to citizenship for those in the United States illegally.1 On September 26, 2016, then-Congressman Pompeo and Senator Tom Cotton published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about their observations of the respective refugee policies of Sweden and Norway.2 In the op-ed, Cotton and Pompeo expressed support for Norway's policies designed to dramatically reduce migration, noting that the policies were enacted due to its understanding “that an open-border policy would strain [its] resources, disrupt the integration of other recently arrived immigrants, and undercut the legitimate desire of Norwegians to preserve their nation's character and culture.”

Cotton and Pompeo contrasted Norway's approach with that of Sweden and several other Western European countries, where they believed that “conventional political parties didn't respond to public concern.” They observed that only after the open border policies of these countries began to have negative effects did the governments respond with new restrictions. Cotton and Pompeo also drew parallels with the U.S. immigration debate transpiring in the 2016 election, stating that “a bipartisan elite consensus has favored the mass immigration of unskilled and low-skilled workers into America coupled with the legalization of millions of illegal immigrants already here.” They suggested that Donald Trump's Republican nomination for president showed that many Americans were concerned about the immigration proposals described above, stating that “[These voters] simply want the priority of America's immigration policy to be the economic and social interests of American citizens.”

In short, Pompeo's record in Congress suggests that he broadly agreed with the immigration policies eventually implemented by President Trump, although he notably endorsed Senator Marco Rubio during the Republican primaries. In some cases, his new position may represent a change for DOS. For example, we discussed reports from September 2017 that suggested that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disagreed with some in the White House on where to set the refugee admissions cap [see blog]. However, it seems unlikely that the ascension of Pompeo to the head of the State Department will represent a significant change in immigration policy, for the DOS has already moved on implementing many of the Trump Administration's immigration policies, such as enhanced vetting.

Immigration is only a small part of the vast responsibilities of the Secretary of State, but it will certainly be important to observe if Secretary Pompeo makes any significant changes to the DOS's handling of important immigration functions.


  1. “On the Issues: Mike Pompeo.” On The Issues. Retrieved May 2, 2018. http://www.ontheissues.org/House/Mike_Pompeo.htm
  2. Cotton, Tom and Mike Pompeo. “What We Learned in Scandinavia About Migrants.” Sep. 26, 2016. https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-we-learned-in-scandinavia-about-migrants-1474932369
Mike Pompeo Sworn in as 70th Secretary of State