Kevin McAleenan, the Acting Secretary for the United States Department of Homeland Security, says he feels he has lost control over the department’s messaging and the authority he feels he needs the the midst President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda.
In an interview with the Washington Post, McAleenan voiced his criticisms of Trump’s immigration policies and expressed a sense of isolation, even as the White House has praised his handling of Trump’s plans to secure the U.S. southern border.
McAleenan particularly criticized “zero tolerance” policies meant to prosecute all border crossers, even those with children, so as to prevent them from simply being released into the U.S. interior. While he said the policy is a “well intended” means of stopping human trafficking, he could not reconcile that against even the short-term separation of families as a result of the policy.
“When you see the impact in the six-week period on 2,500-or-so families and understand the emotional pain for those children, it’s not worth it,” McAleenan said. “It’s the one part of this whole thing that I couldn’t ever be part of again.”
McAleenan expressed concern that the DHS, which he sees as politically neutral law enforcement, is becoming a tool for partisan immigration policies.
“What I don’t have control over is the tone, the message, the public face and approach of the department in an increasingly polarized time,” he told Washington Post reporters. “That’s uncomfortable, as the accountable, senior figure.”
He noted certain terms like “illegal alien” — a legally accepted descriptor for non-citizens who have illegally entered the U.S. — carry “political, emotional and racial” overtones.
The acting DHS chief said he prefers to use the terms “migrants” and “vulnerable families” instead of “illegal aliens.”
As noted by the Washington Post, McAleenan grew up in Los Angeles. His father taught sociology at Occidental College and he himself attended Amherst College in Massachusetts, before attending law school at the University of Chicago. McAleenan also reportedly took a course on “race and law” from former President Barrack Obama, when Obama worked as a professor for the school.
McAleenan eventually donated to Obama’s presidential campaign.
Under Obama, McAleenan became the number two leader for the Customs and Border Patrol and was a popular choice for Trump’s CBP commissioner despite his prior Democratic bona fides.
He was indeed confirmed to the role of CBP commissioner in March 2018 in a 77-19 Senate vote.
Despite his bipartisan support, support among other border officials has not been as favorable.
National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) President Brandon Judd penned a June op-ed for Fox News, crediting McAleenan with the “largest immigration crisis the United States has ever seen.”
Judd also raised concerns McAleenan had divulged planned ICE raids to the Washington Post, which breached the element of surprise those raids may have had.
“If this is true, then Mr. McAleenan was inexcusably willing to put the public at risk and law enforcement officers in harm’s way in order to further his own agenda, an agenda which has not aligned with that of President Trump from the day he was appointed to his previous position as Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” Judd said.
Five Trump administration officials told the Washington Examiner McAleenan opposed the ICE raids and worked to sabotage them.
It is not entirely clear how Trump himself views McAleenan’s role in the job. McAleenan was elevated to the DHS position after then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepped down. It has been speculated Trump pressured her resignation.
In recent weeks, McAleenan announced the end to “catch and release,” another immigration policy opposed by Trump. In his comments on the decision, McAleenan appeared to accept credit for mitigating large-scale border crossings in May.
“Today, I am pleased to report that daily arrivals are down 64 percent from the peak in May, and total enforcement actions for Central Americans arriving at the border have been reduced by over 70 percent,” McAleenan said at the time.