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POLICE/PRISON

The Rise of Mark Morgan, Trump’s New Pick for ICE Director

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs in a hearing entitled “Initial Observations of the New Leadership at the U.S. Border Patrol” in the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2016. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by Glenn Fawcett
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs in a hearing entitled “Initial Observations of the New Leadership at the U.S. Border Patrol” in the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2016. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Photo: Glenn Fawcett)

“I know this border. The president is doing the right thing, he’s right on this issue, and if he asked, I’d go work for him in a heartbeat” – Mark Morgan

President Trump announced the new chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Sunday morning. Mark Morgan, the former director of the U.S. Border Patrol during the Obama-era administration, will replace former acting ICE Director Ronald Vitiello, and current acting director Matthew Albence pending his Senate confirmation.

Morgan supports many of Trump’s recent immigration policies, including the emergency funding of an extended border wall and the distribution of migrants into declared “sanctuary cities.” On various television interviews in the past months, he supported the hard-line immigration stance that Trump advocated in his 2016 campaign and his recent posturing for re-election.

Trump Selects Nominees Who Support His Objectives

After purging the Homeland Security and Immigration Enforcement departments of those who didn’t align with his immigration policies, Trump seems to be choosing nominees who unrequitedly support his ideas to direct these agencies to carry out his legacies.

Just last week, Mark Morgan spoke to Fox News reporter Lou Dobbs, who probed him about his immigration tactics and rumors surrounding a promotion back into the administration.

“If this president asked me to come up, I’d say yes in a heartbeat,” Morgan told Dobbs on air. “This isn’t based on a political ideology, this is based on 30 years of law enforcement. I know this border. The president is doing the right thing, he’s right on this issue, and if he asked, I’d go work for him in a heartbeat.”

Trump and Dobbs have expressed their mutual support and agreement on matters of immigration and border enforcement.

“Lou has a very strong opinion on the border, and I do listen to that opinion,” Trump told Washington Post reporters. “I hope hint [sic] he respects what I’m doing and I respect the job he does.”

Lou Dobbs speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Days following Morgan’s appearance on Dobbs’ show, President Trump announced the appointment of his new ICE director on Twitter. This move came as a surprise to many White House aides and officials in the Homeland Security department, according to Washington Post reports.

Morgan held his position as the director of Border Patrol for roughly six months, but he was ousted shortly after Trump took office. He was both celebrated and criticized as the first chief to come from outside of the agency, with no prior experience as a Border Patrol officer.

Mark Morgan’s Political History

Preceding the ICE nomination, Morgan was an FBI agent in Texas and Southern California, where he supervised efforts to track the MS-13 cartel.

“We used to catch them on surveillance wires, and they would laugh,” Morgan told Fox News in January. “MS-13 gang members would laugh how easy it was to go back and forth between the Mexico and U.S. border.”

In 2014, former FBI Director James Comey chose Morgan, then-lead of the El Paso FBI, to go on temporary duty with a task force meant to address certain parts of Border Patrol internal culture. The agency’s officers had been involved in a series of fatal shootings at that time, and Morgan was supposed to help them overhaul their use-of-force policies. Shootings resulting in death have now dropped more than 70 percent since 2012, and some cite these statistics as proof of Morgan’s success.

Following his time embedded into Border Patrol operations, Morgan was chosen by Obama to direct the agency. He was removed by Trump after just six months on the job, when he made public statements refuting the necessity of a wall along the entire U.S. southern border. Some officials in the agency and external Border Patrol councils offering support to the Trump presidency thought his lack of experience was a hindrance to his leadership.

Now, after two years in retirement, he reemerged expressing support of Trump’s immigration policies in the media. 

(U.S. Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan testifies before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs in a hearing entitled “Initial Observations of the New Leadership at the U.S. Border Patrol” in the Dirksen Senate Building in Washington, D.C., November 30, 2016. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Former acting director of ICE Ron Vitiello was stripped of his presidential nomination for the position this April, and subsequently quit. He stepped into the position June 2018, but was questioned by the public for his role in the death of Roxsana Hernandez, a trans woman and refugee, who died in ICE custody in May 2018.

The only explanation offered by the White House concerning Vitiello’s resignation was Trump’s desire to find someone with more “toughness” in regards to migration. Kirstjen Neilson, then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said she could do nothing to prevent it.

Vitiello was replaced by Matthew Albence, who has been managing the department for just over a month.

Albence garnered the praise of Tom Homan, another former ICE acting director, for stepping up into a position that he says is marked by fights with media and opposition lawmakers in Congress. Homan wished luck to Morgan should he make it through a Senate confirmation.

Contrasting Ideals

In contrast with Morgan, Albence has not supported the use of sanctuary cities as ports for migrant populations, citing logistical difficulties with transport.

Trump pitched the idea on Twitter, after emergency funding for border wall construction was rejected by Congress.

Morgan remains in favor of the policy, where non-governmental organizations and municipal shelters in these sanctuary cities would have to step in to provide adequate shelter conditions and care while individuals awaited their deportation or asylum hearings.

“Border Patrol, ICE, and the faith-based organizations and other non-governmental organizations are overwhelmed,” Morgan said prior to his nomination. “They have no choice. They’re going to have to start pushing these individuals out. Shouldn’t we kind of share the burden throughout the country?”

Despite the nomination, Albence remains in charge of the department until the Senate confirmation.

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