Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan is trying to distance himself from the Trump administration’s immigration rhetoric despite implementing some of the president’s policies at the border, according to an interview published Tuesday.
McAleenan told The Washington Post that he thought the migrant family separations at the border “went too far.”
The acting DHS chief helped devise the original zero-tolerance policy that led to thousands of separated families at the Mexican border, but McAleenan said the policy was “well intended” because he thought it would stop smuggling networks from bringing children on dangerous trips across the border. He now says the policy was miscalculated.
“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 told the Post. “It’s the one part of this whole thing that I couldn’t ever be part of again.”
McAleenan has been acting DHS secretary for about six months now after Kirstjen Nielsen’s firing, working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Before that, he led CBP and was tasked with implementing the zero-tolerance policy that ended after nationwide backlash.
He’s overseen much of the dehumanizing conditions at migrant detention centers at the border, defended the use of tear gas on migrants and implemented many of the Trump administration’s immigration policies that advocates argue have put migrant families in danger.
McAleenan grew in prominence in CBP under the Obama administration but has remained more of an outsider in the Trump White House than hard-line immigration officials such as USCIS head Ken Cuccinelli and acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan because of his hesitance about his agency’s growing politicization, the Post reported.
“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 the Post. “That’s uncomfortable, as the accountable, senior figure.”
McAleenan reportedly sees DHS as a neutral agency that should do its job regardless of who’s president, and he has avoided using dehumanizing immigration rhetoric that Trump’s White House pushes, putting at risk the perception of his allegiance to Trump, according to the newspaper.