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With Nielsen Out, Who is New DHS Head Kevin McAleenan?

Kevin McAleenan seems to have the support of many congressional Democrats, and the experience in immigration law enforcement that has earned him respect throughout the department.

Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen resigned Sunday, following weeks of migrant mismanagement and increased tension at the Southwest U.S. border and stepping into her spot is Kevin McAleenan.

Nielsen’s most significant legacy will be the family separation policy carried out under her watch, where several thousands of children were removed from their parents and guardians in detention. In January, reports found that the government could not track or confirm the reunification of more than one thousand of the families affected.

However, following the outcry and cease of this practice in June 2018, Nielsen’s most recent efforts have been pleas to Congress to adjust immigration legislation and address the increasing numbers of families from Central America and Brazil now applying for asylum in the U.S.

“I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse,” Nielsen wrote in her resignation.

Kevin McAleenan

Indeed, her successor Kevin McAleenan seems to have the support of many congressional Democrats, and the experience in immigration law enforcement that has earned him respect throughout the department.

Nielsen successor

Historical photograph of CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, undated official portrait. U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by James Tourtellotte

This March, U.S. authorities detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the border, according to preliminary DHS statistics. This is the highest monthly figure in more than ten years.

Kevin McAleenan, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has addressed the overwhelmed status of the ICE facilities without partisan language or distasteful generalizations concerning the families seeking asylum.

After Trump’s visit to the Calexico border last week, the president instructed border patrol agents to tell migrants that the country was full. He recently stated that immigration courts should operate without judges. Reportedly, he has also urged DHS to consider another version of the family separation strategy that was used to dissuade migration last year.

Instead, McAleenan has vocalized to lawmakers that DHS needs the authority and resources to detain all families during the extent of their immigration and asylum claims. Without releasing families into the United States after their credible cause interview, and by deporting the families that do not qualify for asylum back to their countries, McAleenan argues that others will be dissuaded to migrate north.

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U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan delivers a keynote speech at the Aviation Security Summit – American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) IN Arlington, Virginia on December 6, 2017…Photographer: Donna Burton

“If they don’t have a valid claim, we’ll repatriate,” McAleenan said. “If they do, they’ll be released with the certainty that they have asylum with the ability to plan, to invest in a business, to make these choices for schools. Right now, they don’t have that. They live with uncertainty for years at a time because the system is broken and overwhelmed.”

Neilsen had a similar plan to halt the quick passage some families are experiencing through detainment and into the U.S. She was not, however, able to convince the lawmakers to assist her.

In light of Trump’s new desire for hard-line enforcement and total blockage of all migration into the U.S., some wonder if Kevin McAleenan will survive in the cabinet.

Kevin McAleenan will take over the Secretary position on April 11.


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